Ask the gardening expert

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We have been thinking about the combination of castor bean and giant rhubarb grown together. Are they appropriate to grow in this part of Washington? I'm also wondering if they are available to start from seed, and if so do you know in which catalogs I'd find them. We could not find either one on any seed racks this last spring. Nor could I find anyone who knew much about either variety of seed. We have a large area to fill in that would get good sun exposure. Would either of these work?

The plants you're looking for are Ricinus and from the description you gave me earlier, I believe you are thinking of Rodgersia. Castor bean, or Ricinus, is an annual in the Pacific Northwest. Rodgersia is more cold tolerant than Ricinus and is perennial. It does fine in sun, but Rodgersia may want some partial shade in the hottest part of the day. Seeds of both are available through Thompson & Morgan. I've seen both plants thriving in our area so they should grow well in your garden. Since the castor seeds are highly poisonous, it's usually suggested that you remove the seeds in their early stage of development. I have on occasion seen each of these plants in 4- or 6-inch pots in larger garden centers, but it's hard to count on finding them when you want them, so seeds may be the more reliable source.

I found and often bought a cute cut flower at a flower shop last summer for my office. Cut and in a vase of water the flowers lasted three weeks! The salesperson told me they were called Godisia. I have not been able to find them in any garden catalogs or any info on them at all. I am wondering where to get seeds/plants and if they will grow in my garden. The flower is long-stemmed, the stem is covered with elongated, almost weedy looking leaves. Flowers resemble a small hibiscus and I have seen them in light pink with white and a fuchsia pink with light pink. Any info is greatly appreciated. Thanks.

Godetia and Clarkia are synonymous. The plant's common names is "Farewell to Spring." Godetia is an annual that blooms best in cool weather, in light sandy soil. Sew directly after soil warms, you will find many color choices in Thompson & Morgan catalog, and others. I see them in seed racks often.

I was surprised to see that tomato cages in the catalogs are expensive. Do you know of anything else that is fairly cheap and will do the same good job?

All spring long local garden centers have sales on garden supplies that often include tomato cages. Most carry a less-expensive type that are not a very heavy gauge wire, and with careful handling these should last you many garden seasons. Most also carry a heavier model that you'd only need buy once in your gardening career. They are more expensive, but you'd only have to buy them once, plus you wouldn't have to pay shipping like you would from a catalog.

I've seen gardeners do a careful staking operation; it's certainly not an expensive method, nor hard to do. When you transplant the seedlings into the garden, drive sturdy 6-foot wooden stakes on all four corners next to the plant, about 10 to 12 inches away from the stem so it won't damage the roots. You might use wire fencing, heavy twine, or anchor in some wooden stakes as cross ties to the cage; you can go as high as you're tomato grows. Another thing to remember you'll need to keep the plant branches off the soil. I frequently trim those to keep them off the ground.

Celeste Lindsay is a WSU-certified master gardener. Send questions to mslindsay8@gmail.com.