Dear Problem Lady

We are just back from a month’s vacation to find our shade garden looking quite wan. Any ideas for color and thrills this late in the season?

You will be lucky to find best choices in, as you put it, “color and thrills this late in the season” among plants left in the stores. First you might revitalize the soil in your shade garden by giving it a light mulching (“top dressing”) of rich compost. Most shade-loving perennials have already had their blooming period, but you might still find some Astilbe or annual impatiens (Fusian Glow brand) or begonias (Super Olympia brand) or lambs ears (Silver Carpet). For ideas visit the extraordinary Mary Livingston Ripley Garden on the Mall, wedged between the Hirshhorn Museum and the old Smithsonian buildings and Independence Avenue. Every plant is labeled.

What is so exciting about Thalictrum? My smart landscape designer, who shall be nameless, raved about it so I planted one last summer. Totally underwhelming.

Delicacy? Subtlety? Elegance? You did not appreciate that this tiny plant with lacy leaves and fluffy blooms likes ANY soil type, requires NO CARE, and thrives in either shade or part sun? Thalictrum is a member of the meadow rue family, of which there are 200 varieties. Before giving up, try another color of Thalictrum. Plant three or five or seven in the front of your border. If they still underwhelm, rip them out and plant some gladioli.

Recent wet weather has brought mosquitoes out in swarms. Any new ideas for warding them off?

Mosquitoes are best ignored, if possible, but some sweet-blooded people are especially victimized. If you are one of those, choose a windy day for gardening work during their breeding season – which goes on all year if there is standing water near. For the unfortunate persons who are magnets for bites, there is a small “Off” lamp – a lantern fitted with a stick of “Off” repellant that burns and disseminates as the lantern burns. One stick lasts for four hours over a wide area.

I’ve heard that autumn is the only time one can divide or move peonies. Any quick tips?

Dig roots deeply and carefully. Divide large bulbs with a sharp knife, making sure that each remaining bulb has several “eyes” (growth buds). In replanting, mix plenty of manure with your soil, making certain those eyes are never deeper than three inches below the soil surface. Water lightly. Transplanted peonies can take a year to recover, so do not expect blooms next year.

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.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.