In the garden mailbox are notes of sympathy, advice, puzzlement

Posted: Friday, September 21, 2001

POUND RIDGE, N.Y. (AP) -- Garden columns generate mail. Write about deer problems and the postman soon comes around with suggestions on how to keep Bambi out of your tulips.

Your barber, it seems, can play an important role in deer protection. Get him to save human hair for you. Collect it every so often and spread it around flower beds and vegetable patch. The deer shun it, so say more than one letter writer.

Or try wolf urine, another suggests. You may find it at the zoo.

Since tomatoes are by far American gardeners' favorite vegetable, I've had numerous letters, with pictures enclosed, about incomparably delicious tomatoes that came down in the family from the Old Country.

But my favorite correspondence was with a little boy who read a column about an unusual white tomato. He was excited about it and asked where he could get the seed. I sent him some, feeling here was a true gardener in the making.

Came back a postcard saying, ''Wow, what a thoughtful jester!'' -- leaving me kindly disposed to guess a punster, rather than a poor speller, was also aborning.

In a lima bean story, I quoted the traditional advice of planting the seed with the ''eye'' pointing downward. It's intended to speed germination. A reader disputed the practice, saying his tests were inconclusive. Well, my own tests were favorable and I got confirmation from an expert of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Nevertheless, I've never planted another lima without wondering to what degree horticulture is an exact science.

Musings about the trouble of getting wisteria to bloom brought sympathetic letters citing woeful experiences and offering suggestions. One woman said that after years without a single flower, she twist-tied false blossoms on her vine just to see what they might look like. But eventually she got the real thing through a combination of digging at and pouring boiling water on the roots and fertilizing with triple phosphate.

Another woman said after getting nowhere by talking to her plant to ''coax it along,'' she tried root pruning, got one flower the following spring and, ''It's been blooming profusely ever since.''

When and whether to prune hydrangeas puzzle many since flowers sometimes come without any seasonal pruning. A reader says he suddenly had more flowers than he could handle and was told warmer winters were responsible. But he'd like to know whether to cut back in fall or spring. Another reader said a hired garden worker cut all her hydrangeas to ground level one fall and she got great flowers the next summer. Well, one should keep track of conditions in one's own garden, and act accordingly. But generally, for Hydrangea macrophylla, the commonest variety, manuals advise to prune older shoots back to base and remove spent flower heads in the spring.

In one column, I wondered why raspberries, one of the most delicate and delicious of fruits, ever got associated with the uncouth sound of the Bronx cheer. An amateur etymologist wrote me it was no mystery, that in Cockney rhyming slang ''raspberry tart'' is used for fart. I checked that out in dictionaries and found it to be true.

But that still left me unsatisfied. Why did the long-ago rhymer choose raspberry tart and not blueberry or apple?


EDITOR'S NOTE: George Bria retired from the AP in 1981 after 40 years that included coverage of World War II from Italy.

End advance for Thursday, Sept. 20, and thereafter

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