Dear Garden Problem Lady


Before Christmas wonderful pansies started appearing around the Hill. Some are so small – around a nickel in size – that I’m wondering whether they are what my grandmother used to call Johnnie jump ups?
They’re hard to describe without pictures, but all three are variations of the viola – an annual in Zone 7. All pansies are violas. But not all violas are pansies! Violas are a lot smaller, their petals are differently configured and each plant has many more flowers. Violas can tolerate heat better than pansies. Johnny jump ups are a type of viola. Their blooms are even smaller, atop longer stems – they look as if they’re jumping up. They are old fashioned and have old names, such as “heart’s ease.” All three are easy to grow, prefer cool temperatures, can withstand as much as 10 degrees of frost and fade away to nothing when temperatures reach 80 degrees F.

We wish to attract hummingbirds to our garden, although my husband fears that we are too imbedded in noise and traffic for them to be comfortable. Comments?
Why not try? To provide food you can hang hummingbird feeders filled with homemade syrup of one part white sugar to three parts water. Change this every three days. Place the feeder in a protected, somewhat shady place. Do not use a suction-attached feeder on a window, the birds could get hurt. If you try two feeders make sure they are far apart – hummingbirds are rivalrous. Hummingbirds greatly prefer nectar-bearing native plants such as bee balm, trumpet honeysuckle, milkweed and Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed). You should also supply fresh water – a small and protected birdbath.

Our tree box is empty and sunny. Are there rules for what to plant there?
There are many rules. Find most at, which is the Urban Forestry Department at the District Department of Transportation. Briefly, if you have a tree in your tree box you may put nothing else there except a thin layer of mulch. With no tree you can request one; or request pruning. Any plantings in a treeless tree box must be low. You are expected to provide water. The rules about fencing are strict. One might add that rules are but loosely enforced.

Can you suggest some pretty flowers that are blue? Our garden sorely needs that color.
Forget-me-not, ajuga, mertensia, hydrangea and tradescantia (spiderwort, pictured). This autumn plant blue hyacinth, grape hyacinth, camassia and scilla bulbs for next spring.


The next public meeting of the Capitol Hill Garden Club, on Sept. 10, starts with refreshments at 6:45 p.m. at the NE Public Library, corner of Maryland Avenue and Seventh Street NE. Meetings are free and open to all. Membership and program details at