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Gardening : Talks on Fuchsias, Herbs Cap Busy Weekend for Gardeners

Times Staff Writer

This is a busy weekend for gardeners: Not only is it the height of the growing season for most plants and vegetables, but shows and seminars abound.

Today at 9:30 a.m., the Sherman Library and Gardens in Corona del Mar is sponsoring a lecture on summer fuchsia care.

These gorgeous, purplish-pink flowering perennials are at their peak now and the Sherman Gardens is a splendid place to see them in full bloom.

Susan Brozowski, color specialist for the gardens, will lead the talk.

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Most gardeners in Southern California plant fuchsias in hanging baskets because of their growth form, Brozowski says, but you can also grow them in tree form; they also do well planted directly into the ground. Fuchsias like dappled shade with no midday sun, and heat is an enemy--which is why fuchsias thrive in coastal gardens.

“Good air circulation is a must,” Brozowski says. “Otherwise, they get diseases and insects.”

Watering Is the Key

As with most flowering plants, proper watering is key. “Fuchsias like to be moist in spring and summer,” Brozowski says. “We water two or three times a week at the gardens.” She stresses that a light soil mix is important for drainage, so the fuchsias don’t sit in puddles.

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Brozowski recommends a balanced fertilizer on a twice-a-month schedule all through the blooming season. “We fertilize nine to 10 months out of the year; we’ve tried feeding both more frequently and less frequently, and every two weeks is best.”

Fuchsias bloom only on new growth, so an annual pruning is critical, Brozowski says. She suggests cutting the plants back to six inches of woody stems at the end of November and then reducing watering to about once a week.

Keep Pinching

“When they start to leaf out again, keep pinching them back and start fertilizing,” Brozowski says. “Take the top two leaves off each branch, so you’ll get two branches instead of one.” She says that at Sherman Gardens, fuchsias are pinched back until late April or early May. “You don’t keep going after the same branches; you’ll see which ones need it. And don’t wait till the new growth is too long.”

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When buds start to set, stop pinching but continue to be meticulous about removing dead leaves to discourage mildew and pests.

The Sherman Library and Gardens is at 2647 E. Pacific Coast Highway, Corona del Mar. Admission to the garden is $2 for all ages; the fuchsia talk is free.

Lure and Lore of Herbs--Did you know that it’s perfectly acceptable to sound the “h” in “herb”? Have you heard that herbs were first used by cavemen, who accidentally dropped fresh meat into thickets and discovered that it tasted better when roasted?

Probably not.

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But you will learn these facts and much more from a talk by Kirby Davis, an herb specialist, Sunday at 2 p.m. at the South Coast Botanic Garden on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

The loquacious Davis is an expert on all aspects of herbs, from their history to their cultivation to their use in the kitchen.

“Soil is very important,” Davis says, “and six to eight hours of sunlight every day are vital.”

Best in Raised Beds

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Davis says herbs need excellent drainage and do best in raised beds. She fills her herb beds with a mixture of about half compost, one-sixth vermiculite, one-sixth peat moss and one-sixth sandblaster-grade sand. “This type of sand is a little more expensive but it’s cleaner and the grains are bigger, which makes for better water run-off,” Davis says. “And the peat moss is a natural inhibitor of bacteria.”

The most popular herbs in Southern California, according to Davis, are thyme, bay trees, parsley and basil, all of which do very well in our Mediterranean climate. “People also seem to want tarragon but it’s very hard to grow,” she says. “It just doesn’t seem to seed well here.”

Her favorite fertilizer is rabbit manure, because “it’s so pure that it goes right to work without burning the plants, and the digested alfalfa fiber amends the soil.” She likes fish emulsion but doesn’t like the neighborhood cats it attracts.

“Herbs are so fragrant that most pests leave them alone,” Davis says. The only exception is basil: Hungry insects seem to find it as tasty as do humans. Herbs will draw aphids, which Davis thwarts with a steady stream of water.

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Bane of Gardener’s Existence

And snails are the bane of an herb gardener’s existence, Davis says. She recommends either crushing them with your heel--messy but extremely satisfying when you discover all your new plantings mauled by the voracious creatures--or using “That’s It,” a poison that comes in tiny flakes and so is less likely to be sampled by pets.

The South Coast Botanic Garden is at 26300 Crenshaw Blvd., on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Admission to the garden is $3 for adults, $1.50 for seniors 62 and older, $1.50 for students with ID, 75 cents for children ages 5 to 12, and free for children 4 and under. The herb lecture is free.

Bromeliad Show--If you’re planning to be down San Diego way this weekend, you might want to stop by Balboa Park, 1549 El Prado, for a free bromeliad show and sale. The show will be open today and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; admission is free.

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