Dear Problem Lady

June 2018


It rained hard yesterday. Half our peonies, some still in bud, have fallen over. I forgot to stake them properly. What can I do now?
Shake the water off when the rain stops and figure out a way – using stakes around the circumference – to tie supporting twine around at a high enough level to keep them upright. Some people wrap chicken wire around the stakes. You learned the hard way (best teacher) that the time to install supports is in spring, soon after the new peony shoots appear. Use one of those support cages with a crosshatched top, making sure that it is tall enough. Another type of support consists of two circles – one about 15 inches from the ground and the other a foot higher.

When is the best time to plant Delphiniums?
Seldom or never in the District of Columbia is the sad answer. You find the plants in stores this month, certainly. Hope springs eternal. But Delphiniums need cool, moist climates to survive. They really do not enjoy our intensely hot, often dry summers. They also prefer a cold, snow-covered winter. If you insist because of the beauty of their tall, heavenly blue flower spikes, give them afternoon shade and rich, alkaline soil.

We love coral bells, especially the classic ones with bright coral flowers in mid-springtime. What looks good with them – something that flowers at the same time?
You could try lady’s mantle. Its frilly green leaves are beautiful long after its stunning cloud of chartreuse flowers has faded. Its Latin name is Alchemilla mollis, its bloom time coincides with that of your coral bells – Heuchera (L) – and it too likes shaded areas without strong afternoon sun.

My sensational foxgloves are blooming magnificently in a somewhat shady corner, but I understand they are biennials. How can I get them to be perennials?
Biennial flowers are plants that finish their life cycle in two years. They bloom in their second year, which is their last. Each plant will die at the end of its flowering and seed formation. Worry not. Let your foxgloves go to seed. Then collect and sprinkle their myriad tiny black seeds where you want foxgloves. Remember, however, that next year’s seedlings will not flower until the following year. So – for another show of blooms next year, you can purchase more plants. From then on, if you scatter seeds, you will have foxgloves every year.

Can you name other biennials?
Hollyhocks, forget-me-nots, Campanula, Sweet William.


The Capitol Hill Garden Club convenes public meetings again on Sept. 11 at 6:45 p.m. at the Northeast Public Library, corner of Maryland Avenue and Seventh Street NE. Meetings are free and open to all. Membership details: