Ask the Gardeners/Q&A

Q I have a small greenhouse in which I grow bedding plants. This spring our peppers suddenly became infested with aphids. It was necessary to go away for two days and I did not have time to spray before I left. When I got home, the aphids were completely gone. I saw a slow flying wasp gleaning the leaves and thought I saw it pick off some aphids. Is it possible that wasps eat aphids? Indeed it is. We always explain to children and adults who come into our greenhouse that they need not fear our mud-dauber wasp friends. We point out that both they and the pet toads keep our greenhouse free of insect pests. Wasps are extremely beneficial creatures. Q In an old trunk in our attic I came across some letters addressed to my grandmother, dated 1902. There were several references to a ``fragrant garden'' in which the friend and my grandmother both shared an interest. It has prompted the desire to have a small one of annuals in the little space I have near my back door. Could you mention some annuals I could choose from? I have just moved here and perhaps it would be a ``conversation opener.''

A fragrant garden of annuals should be a delightful vehicle for making new friends. Our list would include sweet alyssum, fragrant candytuft (Iberis odorata), stock, wallflower (Cheiranthus), sweet-sultan (Centaurea suaveolens), cornflower (Centaurea Cyanus), snapdragon, sweet pea, Nicotiana, mignonette, Dianthus (be sure they are the fragrant ones). Datura cornucopia and D. ceratocaula are delightfully fragrant but may grow too large for your small space. Q Thanks for a journey into nostalgia by way of your mention of sphagnum being used for bandages during the Civil War. Whenever I see the words ``sphagnum moss'' I am transported to a long table full of white garbed women (of whom I was one), making bandages during World War I. As a young high school student, I was a regular Red Cross volunteer. We were provided with a large box of sphagnum moss, the strands of which looked much like woolly caterpillars. Each worker had piles of oblong pieces of gauze to wrap strands of moss in. The completed pads were then packed into large boxes for shipping. We were told they were unusually absorbent. My feminine recollection includes our very flattering uniforms. The crowning touch was a small red cross sewn so that it came at midforehead of the nunlike head covering. I thought you would be interested in knowing sphagnum moss was used for bandages as recently as World War I.

Thank you for your delightful word picture. We did not know sphagnum bandages were used in World War I. However, we can testify to its absorbent quality because we used it in making out-of-water flower arrangements before the floral foams came on the market. Q A friend gave me a large rose geranium plant and it instantly reminded me of a delicious punch a great-aunt used to make with the leaves. It was a favorite beverage on hot summer days. I would love to make some but neither my sisters nor I can recall how it was done. Would you possibly have a recipe?

We had not made punch until we received your letter. Then we referred to Mary MacNicol's book ``Flower Cookery'' (Collier Books, New York). We tried the recipe and found it very refreshing. Her recipe for Rose Geranium Punch is as follows: 1 quart apple juice; 4 limes; 6 rose geranium leaves; 1 cup sugar; 6 drops green vegetable coloring. Boil apple juice, sugar, and geranium leaves 5 minutes, then add limes thinly sliced and crushed. Cool, strain, and color. Add cracked ice and garnish with rose geranium petals.

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