Dear Problem Lady

I have yet to identify a large plant in my garden of herbs. It smells like oregano and looks like mint – a very bitter taste when eaten. I’m thinking maybe Monarda. I’ve been Googling and asking experts but no definite answers. Do you have any thoughts?

I do think Monarda is a best guess. Its leaves are a lot like mint leaves, but it smells like “bergamot” – not much help if one does not know that smell. It is the smell of Earl Gray tea bags. You have probably guessed by now!


Last summer I bought a beautiful variegated leaf iris. It needed lots of water and did well. This year the leaves came up green, no white at all! It is in a pot getting all the sun that has been available so far this spring. Why did its beautiful variegated leaves disappear?

Alas, many gardeners have this experience. Variegated forms of plants are so interesting and have been specifically bred to enhance interest in the garden – and then they sometimes don’t come back. It could be the many dark, rainy days we had in May. The reversion of leaves to all-green instead of interesting white stripes on green comes from changes in the leaf’s cells. Variegated leaves may have less chlorophyll, affecting the way the sun achieves photosynthesis in the plant. If variegated plants can’t use the sun’s rays properly, they revert to green as a kind of protective adaptation in order to survive. You say your iris has had good sunlight – but perhaps just not enough when it needed it. Now, even with recent sunny days, your iris is unlikely to achieve its variegated state.


Last summer I noticed a brilliant red flower all over the back fence at Frager’s outdoor garden center on Pennsylvania Avenue. Just gorgeous. They told me it was Ipomoea x multifida – cardinal climber vine, planted from seed. Even though it could take four months to bloom and is only an annual, I’ve got them up already, ready to climb, but how do I get them to use the fence?

The brilliant scarlet flowers of cardinal vine (Ipomoea x multifida) attract hummingbirds and bees. It is a cross between Ipomoea sloteri and Ipomoea quamoclit, and climbs like a morning glory, twining around and around something. It is easiest to fasten sturdy strings, wires, even fishing line, vertically from the top of your fence to its bottom. Use your fingers to start each vine to twine up.


The next public meeting of the Capitol Hill Garden Club is on Sept. 13. Find membership details at We meet at the Northeast Public Library, corner of Seventh Street and Maryland Avenue NE. Meetings are free and open to all.

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