I’ve heard it said that you don’t know a plant until you’ve killed it . . . more than once. If this is true, I know hardy Fuchsia better than I know any plant in my garden. It’s been hard not to take the deaths of these plants personally, be they F. magellanica, F. gracillis, or F. magellanica var. molinae. Whatever name they’re sold by, they’ve died.
My first attempt was with two F. magellanica, the beautiful species with deep red and purple flowers. I asked a very helpful nursery person if the plants would survive winter and was told, “Absolutely. It takes a lot to kill this one.” Full of confidence, I brought home the lovely plants in early spring, planted them where they received morning sun and afternoon shade, kept them well-watered, ensured excellent drainage (easy to do in my sandy soil), and carefully mulched and tended them through fall. Both plants bloomed until the first week of November, when cold temperatures took them down. No concern there as I knew this would occur. I tended both plants, mulched them, and watched them throughout winter and hoped for the best. When spring came along, I waited impatiently for signs of life. Nothing in April, no buds in May, live twigs in June but still no buds. Dead in July, I dug out both plants and added them to the compost pile. Apparently, it didn’t take much to kill those two.
My next attempt was with the beautiful ‘Queen Esther’. This plant I placed in full sun and watered it a little less, and the plant responded with an outstanding bloom through summer. It faded by early October but, again, this did not worry me. Full of hope, I ignored it through winter. No interference from this gardener whatsoever. When spring came around the plant looked as dead as a dead plant can look, but, keeping in mind the observer’s paradox, I remained hopeful in spite of appearances. It was either going to bud out soon or it would not. I resisted the temptation to add fresh mulch and do a scratch test so as to avoid interference, and waited for the outcome. Sure enough, it lived up to appearances. Dead.
Because I am as stubborn as a Beagle, I decided to try one more time. I returned to the nursery, spoke with another very helpful and enthusiastic plantsperson who told me that hardy fuchsias usually do not die from cold but from rot brought on by our extended wet fall and winter weather. So, I decided to grow my next selection in a container. I decided upon F. magellanica var. molinae ‘Sharpitor Aurea’, not only for the flowers but for the variegated foliage which caught my eye. It thrived through spring, summer, and into fall. Once our incessant rains arrived, I moved the container to a covered area and walked away. I did not interfere with its progress or lack thereof. In late February, I checked the soil once and gave the plant water, and then left it until April when I brought it out into full sun. The only water it received was from rain. When I checked the plant in late May, I saw buds. And they looked healthy, viable, and strong. Again, I left the plant alone until the end of June, when the rains ceased and the days warmed. At that point, the plant was in active growth and the gardener in me took over. I watered, fertilized, and pruned the plant. After the strong foliage growth of spring, it began a less vigorous but extended bloom season that ended with our first cold weather in November.
‘Sharpitor Aurea’, along with ‘Debron’s Black Cherry’ and another fuchsia whose name I neglected to record, are wintering over in our covered terrace. There they will be ignored but not forgotten, neither observed not interfered with, until early spring when I can’t stay away any longer.
Recently, after a long, productive day in the garden when I moved all the container plants to their winter homes, I came inside, cleaned up, poured a glass of wine to sooth my sore back, and sat on the couch next to our cat, Tag the Tail Cottonball (named by my daughter when she was 4), aka Taggy. As I stroked Taggy’s fur, I wondered how much, or how little, influence tending a plant really has on its life. After all, so much in nature is beyond our control, as should be the case. We interfere, frequently at our peril, and our interference often has unintended consequences. When we interfere we effect our life, as well as the lives of other species. As I thought about this, I looked at Taggy. She looked at me with the beautiful but bored expression that only a cat can give when I asked her, “What do you think, Taggy, Schrödinger’s Cat, dead or alive? Phare’s Fuchsias, dead or alive?” She yawned and looked at me with an expression that said, “I don’t care about the plants, but put a dog in that box and then we’ll talk.”