Dear Problem Lady – March 2017

Presented By The Capitol Hill Garden Club 


How hot does it get in DC in the summer? It’s already been such a hot winter.
–– Welcome, stranger! DC temperatures can exceed 100 degrees F for days on end. Remember how 19th-century denizens simply fled “the swamp” every summer – to Cleveland Park or New England – long before Mr. Trump planned to “drain” it. Summers here can also be rainless. Do find flowers in the “drought tolerant” category.

To my ear it sounds pretentious when some of my best friends who are gardeners – all very nice people otherwise – babble away using Latin names for flowers. What’s the matter with saying snowdrops, black-eyed Susans, or spiderwort? Am I missing something?
–– Sane quidemyes indeed you are. Botanical naming began with the Greeks, then the Romans, and for centuries all scientists communicated in Latin. The vernacular was not the language of the literate, who also needed an international language. In science accuracy is essential. Gardeners must know exactly what they are talking about. If you go, for instance, as nearby as French-speaking Canada, a garden center cannot help you find – without the proper Latin name for it – say, rose campion, which happens to be Lychnis coronaria. When you are among friends in your hometown, your local garden center is going to know Galanthus when you say snowdrop and Tradescantia when you want spiderwort. But if you move far away, bring your flower book with the Latin names. And do try to learn to babble away in Latin. You’ll find that becoming mildly irritating can be a big plus in the garden.

In January I fell deeply in love with a nearby shrub covered with brilliant smallish dark pink blossoms with a heavenly scent. And so early! Can you guess its name?
–– You must mean the small Prunus mume, known as a Japanese apricot tree. It blooms for weeks in late January, early February, and seems much too seldom planted here.

My mother used to say, “There’s nothing good about glads” – pronouncing the word with a harsh, flat “A” sound. Maybe she was reacting against their ubiquity in the 1950s. But isn’t the gladiolus a rather lovely summer flower?
–– Yes. It is a Zone 4 corm, or bulb-rooted perennial. Often referred to as sword lily (gladus = sword in Latin), the glad is easy to grow, inexpensive, and takes little space. Plant them close together at the back of your sunniest flowerbed on successive weekends in spring, and you’ll get spires of summer color for weeks.

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