Every now and then, a plant comes along that you cannot do without. You surround yourself with this botanical treasure. You plant it in your garden, in pots on your patio, along your front sidewalk and next to your front door.
You must spread the word about the object of your affections. You give your newly discovered plant to gardening friends – you would probably give it to total strangers – for them to enjoy as you have. If you could, you would issue a sovereign order to plant this prized specimen in every corner of the globe.
It has been less than a year since I first laid eyes on Fuchsia triphylla “Firecracker.” In my opinion, the plant’s name belies its personality. Yes, it is distinctive from most plants you see, if only on account of its leaves, which are cream and olive green with flushes of magenta pink. Its flowers are flared tubes in salmon pink that are 1 1/2 inches in length. But it is not a firecracker in the sense that it will startle you the way other plants with larger flowers, perfumed scents or oddly shaped foliage do.
“Firecracker” is really more like fireworks in the sense that this plant can light up a dark corner of the garden. It is one of the few long- flowering plants – together with impatiens and begonias – that can be included in the repertoire of shade-tolerant species. It also does well in north-facing planters with good ambient light, or in the dappled sunlight found under tall trees on the south or west side of a house or other structure.
“Firecracker,” in the manner of most outstanding plants, is successful because it combines well with just about anything. In the case of “Firecracker,” the key to compatibility is the pink found in its flowers and leaves. For some reason, pink fits well into any garden color scheme, blending well with orange and yellow and contrasting nicely with purple or blue.
You begin to understand why when it comes to roses, for instance, of which more pink varieties are sold than any other color. “Firecracker” is not the first variety of Fuchsia (pronounced FEW-shuh) triphylla to find its way into Valley gardens. For nearly a decade, “Gardenmaster” (“Gartenmeister Bonstedt”) fuchsias have been utilized as long-flowering selections for the shade.
In the back of my own house in the shade of an elm tree, two of these fuchsias have grown more than 6 feet tall. Their leaves are bronze green, and their flowers orange-red in color. Actually, when most people think of fuchsias, their minds conjure up those jewel-like flowers that hang as a lady’s pendant “eardrops” (their common name) among somewhat succulent green leaves. These fuchsias are more finicky than the triphylla varieties.
All fuchsias are highly susceptible to mites. The best way to prevent – or combat – mite infestation is to cut your fuchsias back nearly to ground level in late winter or early spring. Fertilize with a high-nitrogen formulation to get the plants growing and then, once abundant shoots are visible, switch to a balanced fertilizer (such as 20-20-20) to maximize flower production.
Q: I live in a condo in the San Fernando Valley with a small brick patio. It so happens that half of it ends up in the sun all day during the summer while the other half gets morning sun and is in the shade in the afternoon. Do you have any recommendations for plants that would do well and produce flowers in pots on a patio?
– Roberta Mirzayans
A: For the full-sun pots, I would suggest ground-cover “FlowerCarpet” roses, purple or white lantana, or – especially for this time of year – Coreopsis grandiflora. Coreopsis has a daisy-shaped yellow-orange flower that blooms through the fall season. Other long-flowering plants for pots in either full or half-day sun are alyssum, with fragrant white flowers, and lobelia, with trailing deep blue blooms. Common bedding begonias, which flower in white, pink and red and have either green or bronze leaves, will last for a year or more in your half-sun, half-shade pots, and “Firecracker” fuchsias, as well as Peruvian lilies (Alstroemeria) would complement them nicely.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Now is the time to clean up and dispose of leaves from plants that had disease problems during the year. Roses are a prime example of this, but any plant with a fungus or insect infestation should be radically pruned or at least shorn of all diseased leaves. Fungi and insects, if not eliminated from the garden at this time, will over-winter on your plants or in your soil, primed to resume their pestiferous activity in the spring. Diseased leaves belong in the trash – and never in the compost pile.
Note: photo credit to Kell for Fuchsia triphylla ‘Firecracker’