Dear Problem Lady

August 2018

Please name some flowers that will stay blooming all fall.
Rudbekia, Aster, Zinnia, Chrysanthemum, Cleome, Petunia, Turtlehead, Salvia, Sedum Autumn Joy, Sweet Autumn Clematis, Goldenrod.

Is it really true that marigold flowers in a garden provide protection against insect pests that eat leaves, flowers and veggies?
If they do, it might be by actually attracting Japanese beetles, thereby sparing other plants. They might do so by feeding nectar to beneficial insects. But even for these putative helps, marigolds must be planted densely – and thus at the same time rob other plants of water and nutrients. The short answer is, “No.”

After a month’s vacation we find our shade garden looking quite wan. Any ideas for color and thrills this late in the season?
You will be lucky to find best choices in, as you put it, “color and thrills” this late in the season. First you might revitalize the soil in your shade garden by giving it a light mulching (“top dressing”) of rich compost. Most shade-loving perennials have already had their blooming period. For ideas, visit the extraordinary Mary Livingston Ripley Garden on the Mall, wedged between the Hirshhorn Museum, the old Smithsonian buildings and Independence Avenue. Every plant is labeled.

Which vines will not damage brick mortar?
Choose vines that grip by means of tendrils or tiny little clasping shoots that can grasp, and then reflexively contract into a spiral and wrap around a support. Vines that climb by tendrils include Passionflower, Grape, Trumpet Honeysuckle vine and Sweet Pea.

My friend tells me that my bluebells were not Mertensia. Great Scott! I feel crushed. How can two friends quarrel over bluebells? But we have. Help!
Plant identification can be a life and death matter – but not for the plant. When it is just among us pedants, things get ugly. First, look for pictures of the different kinds of bluebells – Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) have blade-shaped leaves, grow roughly a foot tall, and their bell-shaped, periwinkle-blue flowers appear on all sides of a straight stalk. Common (aka English) bluebells (Hyacinthoides non scripta), also have blade-shaped leaves but their fragrant bell-shaped flowers grow on one side only of a curving stalk. Then find pictures of Virginia bluebells (Mertensia Virginica – a different plant entirely). Its leaves are oval shaped, its flowers bell shaped. These open in a pink bud and fall in clusters from a curving stem. All are commonly confused one with another. So even though all bluebells have disappeared until next spring, if the facts warrant, make your friendly apologies.

The Capitol Hill Garden Club convenes public meetings again on September 11 at 6:45 pm at the NE Public Library, corner of Maryland Ave. & 7th St. NE. Meetings are free and open to all. Membership details: