ASK THE GARDENERS. Questions & Answers
Q This summer, while touring around the less traveled highways in the United States, we had the delightful experience of eating lunch at a restaurant that specializes in edible flowers. Not only were the flowers used as garnish, but they were actually used in the cooking. Everything was organically grown, so there were no pesticides to worry about. We would like to plan a garden for next year which would include mostly edible flowers. Can you suggest several annuals and perennials that would be attractive as well as edible? M.F.
Flower cookery, which has been around for a long time, is enjoying renewed enthusiasm. For perennials and biennials, we suggest shasta daisies, daylilies (hemerocallis), hibiscus, violets, violas, pansies, chrysanthemums, hollyhocks, roses, dianthus, and beebalm (Monarda).
Your annual edible garden could include nasturtiums, begonias, impatiens, marigolds, squash and pumpkin blossoms, snapdragons, geraniums, calendulas, and gladiolus. Many wildflowers are edible, such as dandelion (delicious blossom fritters) and wild daisies. Before using any tame or wildflower, make absolutely sure you do not have some ``look-alike'' that is toxic. Many herbs have attractive flowers (borage, lavender, sage, etc.), and some pot plants such as fuchsias have edible blooms.
Q We have quite a large backyard. Hardly any is in full sun, but a large portion of it gets partial shade. Would you please mention some shrubs that will tolerate this condition? Also, would you include some that will attract birds?
An evergreen shrub that does well in partial shade is Taxus (Japanese yew), both upright and spreading. Canadian hemlock tolerates shade and can be kept trimmed for shrublike effect. Rhododendrons and azaleas prefer partial shade, as does mountain laurel. Two deciduous shrubs, snowberry (Symphorocarpos albus) and related coralberry, also called Indian currant (S. orbiculatus) would do well. A dependable bird-attracting shrub that will tolerate partial shade is Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica). Some other fruiting shrubs will grow in your situation, but they would produce foliage only. Snowberry and coralberry have fruit that is not appealing to birds. A small tree, serviceberry or shadbush (Amalanchier), does well in dappled shade, and its fruit attracts birds in late spring or early summer. Q We received your bulletin ``Garbage Can Composting'' and followed the directions and find the method works very well. Since we usually have only a small amount of table scraps each day, however, we do not add the sprinkling of soil daily. We cannot add leaves, since only pine needles fall on our property. In the meantime, the container becomes loaded with what look like gnats, but are more the size of fruit flies - but fly much faster and are black instead of brown. How do you suggest we get rid of them?
The little black flies are likely one of the species of fungus gnats that feed mainly on organic matter. In houseplant soil the larvae sometimes feed on plant roots. We have them in our greenhouse occasionally and spray with either insecticidal soap (found in garden stores) or use our homemade formula: to one gallon of water add one tablespoon liquid dishwashing (not for machine) detergent and two quarts rubbing alcohol. You can add one tablespoon of hot pepper sauce, but don't breathe the vapor. Spray several times, one week apart, so you will eliminate all hatching adults.
You should add a sprinkling of soil every other day. Shredded newspapers added to the composting material will also discourage them. Citrus skins, moistened and run through a blender or food processor, will also help get rid of them. Q I requested and received your bulletin ``Garbage Can Composting.'' In the bulletin you say to catch any liquid draining out. I am wondering where the liquid would come from. I can't find any reference to adding water or why it should be added to the garbage in the can. Should it be added? If so, how often?
You have a good point, and we probably should have explained. You will note that the instructions say to put the can on bricks after punching several small holes in the bottom (away from the rim). Then we say that a pan should be set underneath to catch any liquid (which is odorless).
The liquid can come from any organic matter that is moist, such as vegetable or fruit parts, as it is breaking down. Shredded newspapers, leaves, and soil (see bulletin directions) will absorb some of it, but some days' additions of garbage will have more moisture than other days', and you may not be aware of the accumulation in the bottom of the can. The purpose of the small draining holes is to let the excess drain away. ``Garbage Can Composting'' is available for a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
Q At my childhood home on Long Island (New York State), we had a tree in our yard which we called golden-chain tree. About five years ago I went to a nursery near my friend's home in that area and purchased a small tree labeled ``golden-rain,'' which I thought would have the long chains of yellow, slightly fragrant pea-shaped flowers. It finally sent out a few blooms, but they were not the ones I expected. They were spraylike instead of chainlike, although they had a yellow color. Later the blooms turned to pods.
What you have is Koelreuteria paniculata, or golden-rain tree, instead of Laburnum anagyroides, which has the common name of golden-chain tree and is in the pea family. There is often much confusion about these two species because of the similarity of the common names. They are not related. Neither is dependably hardy in regions where temperatures may drop to sub-zero levels.
If you have a question about your garden, inside or out, send it, along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope, to the Garden Page, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115.