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By Doc and Katy Abraham / May 13, 1983



I recall, while growing up in Michigan, that my mother always had a large clump of sweet cicely, the leaves of which were used as a delicious flavoring for rhubarb pie. Since retiring to Arizona, where I can once again do some gardening, I have tried unsuccessfully for three years to grow sweet cicely. What is the secret? This anise-flavor herb does not do well in areas that have no frost, since it needs a dormant period each year.

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Seeds need a long cool period for good germination and can be sown in spring or fall. It tolerates minus 30 degrees F. (minus 34 degrees C.). It does best in partial shade and needs a humus-rich soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5. Seeds of sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata) taste like licorice.

Just overnight something has dug our lawn in about 15 places. I don't believe it is moles, because there are no tunnels . . . just bare spots of dug-up grass. How can I repel whatever is doing the damage and how do I repair the lawn? The fact that the grass was dug at night and there are no tunnels indicates that skunks have been grubbing your lawn. They are very beneficial animals, devouring countless numbers of harmful larvae in a single night.

Two years ago, skunks, starlings, and flickers completely eradicated a bad infestation in our lawn, proving their worth as a harmless pesticide. The lawn is easily repaired. Use an iron-tooth rake to level the routed areas, then sprinkle with a good grass seed and tamp with a hoe.

Keep the patches moist if weather turns hot and dry.

Do rhubarb plants have to be started from roots, or can they be started from seeds? They can be grown from seeds, but sources are hard to find. W. Atlee Burpee Company, Warminster, Pa. 18974, has both roots and seeds of a variety called Victoria, which has green stalks, shaded red. It is quite tart but flavorful. They also offer roots of MacDonald and Valentine, which have deep-red stalks that are sweeter than Victoria.

Seeds can be sown indoors in late winter and transplanted out later on, or they can be sown directly in the garden in spring. It will take two years before stalks can be pulled from the plants.

Roots will give you plants big enough for a small harvest in one year.

I have two nice beds of mint (both peppermint and spearmint) which are great for beverages and tabouli. They are spreading into other areas of my perennial bed. Hand pulling doesn't help. How can I keep them confined? Mints spread from underground roots and also from seeds and can overtake less aggressive plants. We use metal edging material available from garden stores.

Try to get the widest ones, at least 12 inches and preferably 18 inches. Sink them into the ground with about 3 inches remaining above ground. Keep seed heads snipped off so no seedlings come up outside the barriers.

Last summer a friend gave me a lovely gloxinia, which bloomed for several weeks in a northwest window. It went dormant in the fall and started growth again in February, so I brought it back into the same window. Instead of producing nice large leaves on a short stem it looks more like a trailing vine. What happened? Your northwest window would have the sun's rays coming in during summer, whereas in February, March, and April the sun would be to the south. Not having enough light, the stem stretches into a vine shape with smaller leaves.

Put it into a hanging basket and move it to a bright window.

If you have a question about your garden, inside or out, send it to the gardening page, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, Mass. 02115.m