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VENTURA COUNTY WEEKEND

Turning a Black Thumb Pink

Pam Hantgin, with husband Steve, will welcome visitors to browse among their nearly 500 varieties of fuchsias at a tour Saturday.

June 13, 1996|BARBARA WELDON TONE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's darn near impossible to believe that this all started with just five hanging baskets and a woman who swears that prior to 1984 she killed every plant she touched.

Driving up North Santa Rosa Street in Ventura, it's easy to spot the home that locals have dubbed "The Fuchsia Cottage." The blue-and-white exterior is clean and bright, the lawn is green and trim, and the 70-plus fuchsias in the front yard make it clear you've found the right address.

It's not until you walk through the back gates, however, that you see the real reason why hundreds of people come here every year on the day before Father's Day.

Pam and Steve Hantgin, owners of the Fuchsia Cottage, long ago lost track of the total number of plants on their 50-by-130-foot lot. They do know they have more than 165 hanging fuchsia baskets, and close to 500 different varieties of fuchsias, but the total number of fuchsias, begonias, ferns and assorted other plants has never been tallied.

"We really don't want to know," Pam Hantgin said, laughing. "I think it would scare us."

The tour begins in the front yard with a few hanging baskets and about 70 in-ground fuchsias. Next is the backyard, divided into a raised deck, a small garden and a concrete patio. The last serves as a playground for the dozen or so children who attend the day-care center the Hantgins run out of their home, now that her two sons have grown up and moved out.

A ceiling of hanging fuchsia baskets completely covers the patio and deck, and the garden area houses fuchsias, begonias and ferns in pots, in the ground and hanging. Here and there is a plant or two that is not a fuchsia, fern or begonia. "I don't even know the names of most of those," Pam Hantgin admitted.

Coming to the end of the lot, you might think the tour is over, but it continues--to the back of the lot next door. The Hantgins bought the house and lot next door to their home some years ago. They rent out the house, but the rest of the lot is reserved for cuttings, sprouts, mother plants, the "hospital" for ailing plants, green house and two shade houses.

There are flats with little fuchsia sprouts, and fuchsias in two-inch pots, four-inch pots, one-gallon and five-gallon pots. There are potting benches, plant tags, potting soil and fuchsias, fuchsias, fuchsias.

Another thing the Hantgins can't tell you is how much time they spend on their hobby. "I think if we kept track of that, it would really frighten us," Pam Hantgin said. "In the winter, it's not much time at all, but there is lots to do this time of year--especially before the tour."

The tour, which began in 1989, is a fund-raiser for the Gold Coast Branch of the America Fuchsia Society, of which Pam Hantgin is president. The Hantgins conduct the tour, offer advice, answer questions, provide handouts, and will sell fuchsias in virtually every size, shape and variety to benefit the society.

*

Reservations are not needed and there is no charge for the tour. "My biggest joy now is sharing what I've done and what I've learned," said Pam. "I think it's such a wonderful hobby--when I'm working with my flowers, all my troubles go away--that my goal is for everyone to have at least one fuchsia in their yard.

"I really don't expect other people to do what we've done--I'm addicted and I know it--but I'm living proof that anyone can grow at least one fuchsia," Pam Hantgin said.

She may be a hobbyist but according to fellow society member Carol Wright, Hantgin is "a fantastic enthusiast for the growing of fuchsias and a walking encyclopedia. If you tell her you want to grow pink and white doubles, she'll give you a dozen options."

Hantgin has great patience with, and sympathy for, the plant novice. "I was as uninformed as they come," she said. "That's why I firmly believe that there are no stupid questions. I've made every mistake you can imagine." Looking around and above, it's difficult to believe she wasn't born with the proverbial green thumb.

"Ha!" she said. "Let me tell you a story. When I first started growing fuchsias, I went to a monthly meeting and told the other members that I couldn't understand why my plants were so 'leggy'--I was faithfully pinching them to get more fullness, but with no result.

"One member asked how I was pinching them, and I proceeded to demonstrate how I carefully pinched each leaf between my thumb and forefinger. It was only then that I found out that 'pinching' meant removing the end blossoms--not literally pinching the leaves. I now tell all new members that if they're finished pinching and they don't have anything in their hands--they're doing it wrong!"

DETAILS

* WHAT: The "Fuchsia Cottage" Tour.

* WHERE: 94 N. Santa Rosa St., Ventura.

* WHEN: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

* HOW MUCH: There is no charge for the tour and reservations are not required. Plants will be for sale, ranging in price from $2.50 to $12. Cash and checks only.

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