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Ask the Gardeners, Q & A

Q In a reader's letter (April 16, 1985) in the ``Ask the Gardeners'' column, there is a reference to ``these fruitful plants in hanging baskets,'' but the name of the fruitful plants is not given. Could you please tell us what these plants are? The plants referred to are Sweetheart strawberries, which can be started from seeds. Sorry that part of the letter was left out. Q I often see the word ``succulents'' in articles relating to plants, but there is never any explanation. Could you please clarify the term?

Succulents, generally speaking, are plants that can survive long periods without water. There are two types: those that are water storing and those that are drought resistant. Water-storing types include cacti (which have water-storing stems), and other plants with fleshy stems or leaves (or both). These genera include Haworthia, Aloe, Echeveria, Crassula, Sempervivum (Hen-and-chickens). Drought-resistant succulents have been nature-conditioned to withstand long periods of dryness. Three well-known examples are Hesperaloe, Yucca, and Agave, which includes some water-storing species also. Q Several years ago, using a suggested plan by a nurseryman, we planted both upright and spreading yews (Taxus). Even though we pruned them once a year they grew quite tall. Last year we cut them back severely, thinking they would fill in as did our arborvitaes around our summer cottage. However, they still look like sticks with a few green needles around the edges. If we fertilize them this spring, will that stimulate them to fill in?

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Unlike arborvitaes, once yews have grown out of bounds (probably obstructing windows and doorways), it is impossible to prune them back into shape. Foundation plantings (those that surround your house) should be considered just as expendable as outworn indoor furnishings.

Attractive landscaping can add at least 10 percent to the value of your home. In addition to aesthetics, trees, shrubs, and green grass have a cooling effect in summer, are heat savers in winter, provide a sound barrier to shut out noise, and put oxygen back into the air we breathe. They also act like giant filters, removing pollutants from the air. Q We would like to have a perennial bed in our backyard, but we have little knowledge about what to plant. Do you know of a book we could buy which would have pictures and some cultural information?

Pamela Harper and Frederick McGourty have put together a paperback titled: ``Perennials, How to Select, Grow and Enjoy''($9.95, HP Books, Tucson, Ariz. 85703). It has excellent photographs, plus descriptions, uses, and a list of sources. There are also references to hardiness and brief but for the most part adequate cultural tips to assist you in making selections. Q I have been planting borage each spring because it seems to attract hummingbirds. Sometimes it sows itself and I have plants for the neighbors, but we do not know of other uses for it. I can't say that I like the tea made from the leaves.

We find the leaves should be used when very tender for the best taste in tea. In addition to tea, some folks like to use finely chopped leaves in salads and sandwiches. We have mixed them with cream cheese. Blue star-shaped blooms can be used for colorful salads (sparingly until you're sure you like the taste) and they can also be candied for confections and cake decorations.

If you have a question about your garden, inside or out, send it to the Garden Page, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, Mass. 02115. Doc and Katy Abraham are nationally known horticulturalists.

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