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Ask the gardeners

By Doc and Katy AbrahamSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / April 16, 1985

Q Could you mention some shrubs with aromatic blooms that we could plant around our outdoor living area? I have fond memories of such a fragrant planting around the backyard of my childhood home. We will include those that are hardy in a large part of the United States, including your state (Iowa). Folks should consult local nurserymen for varieties or species that are most suited to their areas.

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Two spring favorites are crab apple and lilac. There are many fragrant azaleas, but remember two precautions: Be sure to provide an acid soil and see that your choices are hardy. We hesitate to recommend mock orange (Philadelphus) because of complaints that newer strains lack fragrance.

Roses, including old-fashioned species, should give fragrance and beauty through June and July and again in early fall. A dainty May-June bloomer is Daphne cneorum, a superb low-growing evergreen shrub with masses of tiny pink flowers. Carolina Allspice (Calycanthus floridus), also called strawberry shrub or sweet shrub, is a spring bloomer with an unforgettable, heady fragrance. No list is complete without Viburnum carlesii or one of its progeny. Often called fragrant snowball, it is an unrivaled spring bloomer. Because there are few fragrant shrubs for midsummer and fall bloom (for your area), we'll mention two vines that are easily trellised. Sweet Autumn clematis blooms from late summer into fall; Lonicera (honeysuckle) starts blooming in midsummer and continues into autumn. Q In December 1983 we saw beautiful potted ornamental peppers in a florist shop, for holiday gifts. In October 1984 we bought some seeds thinking we could grow our own gift plants in our small greenhouse. We were surprised to find they take much longer. They were in their best red color around Easter instead! When would you suggest we plant seeds to have them ready in December 1985?

Ornamental peppers need about six months to put on a show, hence should be sown the first week in June to be ready for December holidays. Sow seed boxes, cover lightly with the Peat-lite medium, maintain at 70 degrees F. or above, keep moist at all times, and they will be ready to transplant to 21/2-inch pots by the end of June.

In late July, transplant to 6-inch pots and pinch out tips to make them bushy. Your greenhouse may be too hot during the summer, so grow them outdoors until late summer or fall. Give them a liquid feeding about every two weeks. You can choose from varieties with cone-shaped, round, or pencil-thin fruits -- and they are edible if you can stand the heat. But do not mix any Christmas cherry with them; this creates Solanum Pseudo-capsicum, which is toxic. Peppers are true Capsicum. Q Could you recommend a colorful, low-growing (6 to 8 inches) annual that can be sown directly outdoors in May, which will bloom all summer? We want to have something striking around the edge of our new patio.

Thumbelina zinnias are the best we can think of. They sprout fast in warm soil, grow to blooming size very quickly, and continue all summer with an abundance of colorful 2-inch flowers. Q Do you have any suggestions for keeping tiny white grubs out of radish roots, without using toxic chemical pesticides?

You are referring to cabbage maggot, which also attacks radishes and other members of the crucifer family. They are the larvae of a one-fourth-inch-long, dark gray fly which lays eggs near the base of the stem. These hatch and larvae crawl down to the roots. Covering seedlings of radishes and transplants of other crucifers with the Reemay polyester material mentioned in Peter Tonge's column March 19 would help eliminate the first infestation and thus prevent a second brood of adults from emerging.