Dear Garden Problem Lady – 2017

Presented By The Capitol Hill Garden Club


I heard that a garden in a pot should contain just three things – “a Thriller, a Filler, and a Spiller.” Meaning what?
Fine Gardening magazine popularized this wise mantra. The Thriller can be a brilliant spike of bloom or leaf. Filler – any bushy thing. The Spiller – something drooping down over the edge of the pot. Find three that go together, and go for it.

My springtime Japonica camellias were sensational this year. But I can never figure out how to arrange them.
Yes. Breathtaking camellia blooms have a perverse way of facing downwards, on short stems. Were we intended to lie down underneath the camellia bush and look up? Try floating picked camellias in water in a shallow crystal bowl.

Due to unconscionable neglect, our Japonica camellias became trees. This year, after blooms finished, I pruned them back drastically. How best to give them intensive care now?
During this growing period, feed them once with slow-release acid fertilizer such as Hollytone. Don’t overwater, but don’t let the soil around them dry out. Mulch lightly. If they survive, pay better attention.

One of my giant alliums came up two weeks late as two plants instead of one. It is thus much smaller than the others. Should I try to divide it?
Leave it alone. It is trying to survive. Its bulb is probably damaged. A sprinkling of composted manure might help. Very late summer is the only time to lift and/or divide allium bulbs. Only after leaves have died away, lift carefully with a fork.

Is there an actual DC law about what one can plant in a tree box?
Yes, dear. Not that enforcement is noticeable. A tree box should contain nothing except a tree. Mulch your tree. If you have no tree, any plantings should be low, so as not to impede automobile sightlines. Fencing should also be low, with no fence whatsoever on the street side. See Rule 24-109: Beautification of Tree Spaces, DC Regulations.

Could you suggest some drought-tolerant planting ideas for a treeless tree box?
The usual groundcovers, Vinca minor (periwinkle), Pachysandra (spurge), and Liriope are better than nothing. Find only the “dwarf” variety of the following ideas. Few can tolerate strong sun and no water, so you need to check the needs of each plant. In alphabetical order try Ajuga (bugleweed); Alpinia pumila; Asarum (wild ginger); Epimedium (barrenwort); Galium odoratum (sweet woodruff); Salvia sylvestris Marcus; Sedum angelina; and Tiarella cordifolia. Annuals might include sweet alyssum and Portulaca grandifolia.

The next public meeting of the Capitol Hill Garden Club occurs on Sept. 12 at the Northeast Public Library, corner of Maryland Avenue and Seventh Street NE. Meetings start at 7 p.m. and are free and open to all. Membership details:

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