Ask the gardeners

We were recently given a plant with small blue, star-shaped blossoms. Our friend said it is a Persian violet, but we cannot find it in any of our houseplant books. The leaves are small and more abundant than most houseplant leaves, and the blooms are fragrant. Can you help us identify the plant?

The botanical name for this plant is Exacum; it's also called Arabian violet, and is no relation to the African violet. There are white varieties as well as blue, and leaves are glossy rather than hairy.

Keep from hot sun, but give it as bright indirect rays as possible. The plant does not do well below 60 degrees F.

The soil should be ''just moist'' at all times.

A good soil mixture is 1 part garden soil, 2 parts sphagnum peat moss, and 1 part perlite or coarse sand. The plant is easily started from seeds, and many seed houses carry them. They get rather ratty looking after about a year, so it's best to discard them and start over.

About 10 years ago we planted a lilac and it grew in tree form and bloomed each year. A couple of years ago shoots came up from around the base and the leaves were smaller.

This past winter, the center stalk died out and only the bushy part was left. Since then it has had tiny clusters of white blooms and the bush resembles a privet, which we recognize because of a hedge we had years ago. The shoots are definitely part of the old trunk. How could this be?

For many years, nurseries grafted or budded certain varieties of lilacs on to privet root stock, and even now some hybrids are grown this way.

Such shoots as you described should have been removed as soon as they appeared. However, if the lilac is not a grafted one, then it is good to have shoots come up from the base to form a bush. It is added protection against lilac borers. These pests rarely affect all the shoots.

Lilac bushes are pretty durable, surviving borers, mildew, and usually cold temperatures. There now are more than 500 varieties of lilacs grown in the United States and Canada.

We are having a house built and would like to take some existing plantings to our new location, which we'll move to in late fall. However, we will not be able to plant until next spring. How do you suggest we carry over some hosta plants, some hens and chickens, and some evergreen euonymus?

Since hosta (plantain lily) and hens and chickens (Sempervivum) are very hardy, they can be dug before frost and put in a cold frame which you could construct in a sheltered place on your new property.

A cold frame is simple to make, with cement blocks for the frame. Set the plants down into the soil the depth they grew and mulch with straw or leaves. Water well.

We suggest you take cuttings of the euonymus and root them in a terrarium or in containers filled with moist perlite (keep the rooting medium moist at all times). They will root and grow indoors until you can plant them out in spring.

If the bushes are large, it would be too difficult to move them in late fall; and besides, the new owners may think they should be left as part of the landscaping.

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