Docent Guide – September

Garden focus: Perennial

Garden Main Description

Anchored by a thriving display of hardy fuchsias, gifted to the Arboretum by the Northwest Fuchsia Society and the Western Fuchsia Species Society, this garden also contains a wide variety of perennials and flowering shrubs that attract hummingbirds, putting on a lively show in mid-summer.

Stories to tell:


Some say fuchsias are shrubs, some say perennials: we say they are both. There are almost 110 species of Fuchsia that are recognized; the vast majority are native to South America, with a few occurring north through Central America to Mexico, and also several from New Zealand to Tahiti. In these warm climates, Fuchsias grow as woody shrubs. In the Pacific Northwest, Fuchsias are grown as herbaceous perennials, although we have had an occasional winter where the Fuchsias have acted more like shrubs.

Taxonomists have arranged the almost 110 species of fuchsia into 12 sections based on native area and plant characteristics. The variety in the species is fascinating. Some grow in the northern part of South America, Central America and Mexico and like warmth. They have long tubes, some up to 4”, and often are shades of orange. Others, with red sepals longer than their tubes and purple corollas, are winter hardy in the Pacific Northwest and have parented many hardy hybrids. The Lake Wilderness Arboretum has fuchsias from four of the 12 sections.

  • Encliandra: Mexico to Panama. LWA has one Fuchsia ravenii growing in P09.
  • Fuchsia: Northern Argentina to Colombia and Venezuela, and Hispaniola. With 64 currently recognized species, Sect. Fuchsia is the largest section within the genus. LWA has Fuchsia denticulata from this section.
  • Procumbentes: New Zealand. LWA has several Fuchisa procumbens growing down a slight slope in bed P10.
  • Quelusia: Southern Argentina and Chile, and Southeastern Brazil. Of the nine species in this section, LWA has four: Fuchsia campos-portoi, Fuchsia hatschbachii, Fuchsia magellanica (several plants) and Fuchsia regia (LWA has both regia ssp. regia and F. regia ssp. reitzii).

What exactly is a hybrid? A hybrid is the offspring of two plants of different species. Hybrids are often created by humans to produce improved plants that have some of the characteristics of each of the parent species.

The Lake Wilderness Arboretum’s Perennial Garden has a handful of different species of Fuchsias along with a large assortment of hardy fuchsia hybrids. The garden is alive with blooming fuchsias all summer and fall until the frost. Hardy fuchsias (hybrids) grow best and will flower more in full sun, although light or open shade is okay. In the spring watch for the new leaves to emerge and cut back any deadwood. If the winter was particularly cold, this may mean cutting the branches from the previous year to the ground. In the fall when the frosts have started, do not prune back the branches (except to neaten things up a little), the stems do help protect them from the cold.

The NW Fuchsia Society has an excellent website with great information about species fuchsias and different hybrids and their care.

What is a perennial?

Put simply, a perennial plant is one that lives for more than two years as opposed to shorter-lived annuals, which complete its life cycle in one year, and biennials, which bloom in their second year and die.  Technically speaking, trees and shrubs are perennial plants because they grow for more than two years. But horticulturists usually categorize perennial plants into two types: woody plants and herbaceous perennials.  Trees and shrubs are categorized as woody plants.

Herbaceous perennials grow and bloom over the spring and summer, die back every fall and winter, and then return in the spring from their rootstock. There are also evergreen, or non-herbaceous, perennials including plants like Bergenia which retain leaves throughout the year. Another class of plants is known as subshrubs because a woody structure remains in the winter (such as Penstemon). The local climate may dictate whether plants are treated as shrubs or perennials. For instance, many varieties of Fuchsia are shrubs in warm regions, but in the PNW climate may be cut to the ground every year as a result of winter frosts.  The gardening world will often divide perennials into categories based on their characteristics such as, herbaceous, evergreen, sun-loving, shade-loving, long-lived, short-lived, and flower color.

Perennials typically grow structures that allow them to adapt to living from one year to the next through a form of vegetative reproduction rather than seeding.  Many perennials that create structures are referred to as bulbs. There are five kinds of bulbs and one true bulb. Daffodils and tulips are true bulbs. Other bulb types are corms (Crocosmia), tubers (Cyclamen, Dahlia), tuberous roots (tuberose begonia), rhizomes (Iris) and bulbets/bulbils (Allium). The Lake Wilderness Arboretum perennial garden has examples of corms, tubers and rhizomes. The Legacy Garden has bulbs (Tulips and Daffodils) and bulbets (Allium).