James Lye Fuchsias

James Lye was born in 1830 to Richard and Ann Lye of Market Lavington in Wiltshire. He worked for many years as head gardener and, before that, as assistant to his father Richard, (also head gardener) at Clyffe Hall in Market Lavington on the Salisbury Plain. It was here that James Lye developed and perfected the art of growing enormous pillar fuchsias. Fuchsias in the mid nineteenth Century were very popular and something of a ‘fad’ at the time. There was great competition among the head gardeners of grand homes to grow pillar Fuchsias which were often used to line the long driveways leading to grand homes in the Summer. In 1866 James Lye was named Champion Fuchsia Grower in West England, helped no doubt by the fertile soil and mild conditions found on the Salisbury Plain. At the time, Market Lavington was surrounded by market gardens and the presence of brick works is evidence of the clay soil found in the region. He travelled up to 50 miles to shows with his plants in open carts which was a long way in those days. The plants were grown in 14” pots, up to eight feet high and 3 to 4 feet wide and dripping down to entirely cover the pot so it could not be seen.

James Lye became a very prolific and successful breeder of Fuchsias. He developed over 94 cultivars between 1860 & 1901. His name is mentioned in the 1871 edition of the first book of Fuchsias by Felix Porcher ’Fuchsias:son Histoire et sa Culture’ as a very successful breeder: “At the same time, appear creations by James Lye (Trowbridge) that occur between 1860 and 1901, 94 cultivars (the majority still on sale) having a tube with white-cream, "hallmark Lye "AMY LYE, CHARMING, LYE'S UNIQUE, etc. ... Beyond his work, he remained the one who devised the forms of culture and exposure which have become the "standard" for growing plants that can reach the pyramids from 2.5 to 3 meters high. “     

Possibly because of his interest in growing pillars, James Lye appeared to concentrate on producing sturdy, vigorous, hardy, free and long flowering varieties. As he had only two relatively small cold greenhouses, his plants needed to be sturdy, vigorous and hardy. He developed a system of propagating, growing, pruning and fertilizing his Fuchsias to develop pillars and pyramids up to eight feet in height entirely covered in blooms using what would be known today as ‘organic’ methods’. Some techniques included standing his Fuchsias outside on an ashes base, syringing frequently to prevent red spider mite and fertilizing with a manure tea foliar fertilizer each week during the growing season. He kept his cuttings from flowering in their first season then, after allowing them to flower in the Autumn, he cut them back and began to shape them ready for the next Autumn’s shows. He generally exhibited plants which were 18 months old but kept some for up to five years before discarding them. Lye took over 100 prizes many of them Firsts despite fierce competition. He did not confine himself to breeding Fuchsias; he became renowned as a breeder of potatoes taking the medal which celebrated 300 years of Potato growing with his new potato ,’Clipper’ in 1886.

Lye bred many Fuchsias including many with what became known as his ‘hallmark’ waxy white long tubes and sepals. The corollas of these hallmark plants were singles in tones of salmon, apricot, tangerine, pink and cerise. His feat was remarkable since Venus Vitrix, found as a chance seedling from F: Magellanica in 1840 by Gullivar gardener to Rev Mariot Hermonceauxthe in Sussex , was the first cultivar with white sepals      (see below)and was itself a very fragile plant but became the basis for the breeding of all white sepals in Fuchsias.

Lye, however, produced many beautiful Fuchsias other than those with his distinctive hallmark. James Lye’s earliest recorded introduction was Loveliness in 1869. He was still releasing new Fuchsias as late as 1897 with W. R. Mould. In all, he was said to have developed over 80 cultivars selecting only the best from each batch of seedlings. Lye’s son in law, Bright, continued the tradition of breeding strong, free flowering cultivars including the well loved and still available Coachman 1910 and Pink  Pearl 1919  ( at one time known as Mrs. Friedlander).

The advent of WW1 saw most fertile land in England turned over to food production thus bringing to an end the era of Fuchsias during which thousands of Fuchsias were sent to Covent Garden Market every day for sale.  In all 50,000 Fuchsias were sold there each year.

 Lye retired in 1897 and ceased exhibiting Fuchsias in 1901.Lye died in 1906 suffering from paralysis. His obituary was printed in the prestigious Gardeners Chronicle Feb 1906. Testament to the success of Lye as a breeder is the fact that many of his cultivars are still grown today around the world more than 100 years since their introduction. Among those are:

Alice Pearson 1887:
Single upright Tube &Sepals:  long, waxy white Corolla:bright crimson, small flowers very free and long flowering/ hardy/ best  in shade

 Amy Lye 1885:
Single bush Tube &Sepals: long waxy white Corolla: coral apricot/medium flower/ free flowering/vigorous/ hardy (avail Aust;UK;USA)

Annie Earle 1887:
Single trailer Tube &Sepals: long waxy white Corolla: bright scarlet/ medium flower very long and free flowering/ cascading trailer
(avail Aust;UK; USA)

Arabella Improved 1871:
Single upright bush Tube &Sepals:long waxy white Corolla: rosy cerise/ vigorous, free flowering (Avail. Aust;UK: USA)

Beauty of Swanley 1875:
Single lax bush or trailer Tube & Sepals: white tinged pink. Corolla: soft pink/ medium flowers very free flowering.
Named Hebe in 1875 renamed in 1881 (Avail Aust.;UK;USA)

Beauty of Clyffe Hall 1881:
Single trailer Tube & Sepals: waxy white Corolla: deep pink/small flowers /lax growth(Avail: UK; USA)

Beauty of Trowbridge 1881:
Single upright Tube &Sepals waxy white Corolla: rosy cerise, medium flower, vigorous and hardy (Avail: UK)

Cecil Glass 1887:
Single upright bush Tube &Sepals: white with pink tinge Corolla: rich magenta/ medium  flowers very free flowering and hardy (Avail: UK)

Charming 1895:
Single upright bush Tube &Sepals: carmine Corolla: reddish purple/good for Exhibition(Avail UK& USA)

Clipper 1898:
 Single sturdy upright Tube & Sepals: cerise Corolla: rich claret / medium flower/ free flowering / hardy/ good standard (Avail: UK)

Eclipse 1897:
 Single strong upright Tube &Sepals: waxy white Corolla: rosy carmine/medium flower/ heavy bloomer/good standard/very hardy
Emily Bright 1892:
 Single vigorous upright bush Tube &Sepals: waxy white Corolla: very dark claret /medium flower/very free flowering (Avail UK)

Emily Lye:
 Single upright/ vigorous Tube &Sepals: soft apricot Corolla: dark apricot     (Avail Aust)
Harriet Lye 1887:
Single to semi double sturdy upright bush Tube &Sepals: waxy white Corolla: mauve pink edged carmine /medium flower /constant bloomer/ hardy (Avail: UK)

James Huntley 1885:
Single upright bush Tube & Sepals: waxy white Corolla: rose red/flower large &  free flowering/ hardy

James Lye 1869:
 single to semi-double upright bush Tube &Sepals: cerise Corolla: rich blue violet shaded magenta /flower medium and free flowering/hardy
(Avail: UK; USA)
James Welch 1871:
Single low spreading bush Tube &Sepals: turkey red Corolla: violet magenta/flowers small and very free flowering /hardy

Jane Lye 1870 :
Single upright, medium sturdy bush Tube: soft pink Sepals: white Corolla: mauvish pink ageing to lilac/ medium flower/ very free flowering
(Avail. Aust; UK)

 John Bright 1886:
Single, sturdy low lax bush Tube&Sepals: white Corolla: pale mauve / medium flower/ very free flowering/ good as a cascade

Jubilee 1879 :
( different from Reiter one 1953) Single upright spreading bush Tube & Sepals: blush white Corolla: scarlet / flower medium & free flowering
Letty Lye 1877:
Single upright bush Tube & Sepals: flesh pink Corolla: crimson / medium flower/ very free flowering(Avail: UK)

Loveliness 1869:
Single upright bush Tube &Sepals: waxy white Corolla: rose cerise / medium flower/ very free flowering/sturdy (Avail UK)
Lovely 1887:
Single upright Tube &Sepals white Corolla: carmine flushed magenta/medium flower very free flowering (Avail: UK)
Lye’s Elegance 1884:
Single upright bush Tube &Sepals:waxy cream Corolla: rich cerise / medium flower/ free flowering (Avail: UK)

Lye’s Excelsior 1887:
Single upright bush Tube: waxy yellow & Sepals:waxy cream Corolla: rich scarlet/ medium flower /very free flowering (Avail: UK)

Lye’s Favourite1886:
Single sturdy upright bush Tube &Sepals: flesh pink Corolla: orange cerise/ medium flower/ very free flowering (Avail Aust; UK)

Lye Own 1871:
Single, strong upright bush Tube &Sepals: waxy white Corolla: bright pinkish lilac/ long flowers/ very free flowering/hardy/makes a good standard (Avail: UK)

Lye’s Perfection:1884:
Single upright Tube  &Sepals: waxy white Corolla: carmine     (Avail: UK)

Lye’s Rival 1891 :
Single sturdy upright bush Tube & Sepals: red Corolla: violet ageing purple/ medium flower/ free flowering/ hardy/ pale green foliage

Lye’s Unique 1886:
Single sturdy upright bush Tube &Sepals waxy white Corolla: salmon orange / small flower/ free flowering/ hardy(Avail Aust; UK; USA)

Miss Lye 1870:
Single upright bush Tube &Sepals: ivory white Corolla: magenta rose / medium flower/ free flowering (Avail Aust; UK)

Mr. F. Glass 1870:
Single to semi-double /sturdy upright bush Tube & Sepals: crimson Corolla: purple shaded maroon/ medium flower/ free flowering

Pink Perfection 1879:
(different from Niederholzer 1947)
Single sturdy upright bush Tube & Sepals: creamy white Corolla: mauve pink / med. flower/ very free flowering/ hardy

Scarcity 1869:
Single Upright bush  Tube &Sepals: scarlet Corolla: rich rosy purple shaded scarlet at the base/ sturdy/ free flowering (Avail Aust; UK)

W.R. Mould 1897:
Single Upright Tube&Sepals: white & long Corolla: cerise red

Pride of the West 1871:
Single sturdy upright T & S: reddish pink C: plum red / vigorous /climber (Avail: UK)

Lye continued his interest in Fuchsias long after he retired as head gardener in 1897. His Obituary was recorded in the Gardener’s Chronicle Feb 1906 a prestigious weekly horticultural magazine. It noted his fame as a Fuchsia grower and breeder. After suffering from paralysis he died in 1906 having ceased showing Fuchsias in 1901. His son-in law John Bright, breeder of Pink Pearl and Coachman, still available today and further descendents including Thorne who bred many varieties in the late 50s and 60s continued his work.

The advent of the Warden case , which was an enclosed glassed  case  on a wooden base filled with soil in which plants were planted, enabled Fuchsias to be brought over the sea to Australia from Britain. The Lye Fuchsias were greatly valued in Australia, as elsewhere, for their long flowering habit and heat tolerance. As mentioned in a previous article on Fuchsias in Australia the Sydney Botanic Gardens had a Fuchsia Walk in 1881 which mostly used James Lye Fuchsias and those by his French rival Lemoine .

In reading the descriptions of the Lye bred Fuchsias and those of family members e.g. Bright & Thorne , the common characteristics which distinguish them are ‘sturdy’ ‘free flowering’, ‘vigorous’, They are generally classified as ‘hardy’ plants tolerating both heat and cold. They are still widely available and grown in Australia and overseas. This confirms their usefulness for gardeners of these ‘easy to grow’ plants.
Janice Devine: President Fuchsia Club of NSW Inc. 2010  www.fuchsiaclubnsw.com.au

Thanks to: Far too many sources to list them all but among the best:
Rog Frost (Curator) and Market Lavington Museum  www.marketlavingtonmuseum.wordpress.com 
Gardeners Chronicle (various see : www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/84215#9
Cassel’s Popular Gardening  p70-74 Sept 1895
Royal Horticultural Society website: http://apps.rhs.org.uk/rhsplantfinder/ 
Thorne T: Fuchsias: for all Purposes:  W. H.& L Collingridge  Ltd 1959 London