Ask the gardening expert

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There are a few perennials that I simply cannot seem to grow. I seem to have a whole list of them, but the one I am thinking of right now is hollyhock. I love them, my grandparents always had them, but I can't seem to grow them. I tried seed, and my chickens got them before they could grow, then I put in plants; they bloomed the first summer, then died that winter. I wonder why.

I'm guessing you may have purchased one that was kept in the nursery the first year, and then the plant was ready to bloom the second year.

Hollyhock is a biennial, which means that it is vegetative the first year, then blooms the second year, then dies at the end of the growing season. Your next move (in an ideal world) should have been to collect the seeds from the dying plant and disperse them to begin the process again. If you do this each year, you'll have constant hollyhock plants in various stages, and a stand that is to the observer behaving more like perennials.

There is a terrific article on Page 60 of the March/April issue of Fine Gardening, "Biennials That are Worth your Time." The author, Amanda Thomsen, does a great job of explaining her method to keep biennials as a more permanent part of your garden.

We moved into a rental home and have a nice backyard. We want to put in a vegetable and fruit garden. There's not much sun there. There is a spot that might get six hours of sun; I know we can't plant corn and other hot-growing things, such as melons. Are there vegetables, fruit, and maybe flowers, too, that will grow in shady gardens?

Well, we do all know that with veggies and fruit, the more sunshine the better, but sometimes we have to deal with what we have. You might try beans, beets, greens, broccoli, peas, radishes, and even scallions. As for fruit, try blueberries, currents, hardy kiwi, June berries. As for flowers, try hostas, helleborus, hydrangeas, brunnera, heuchera, fern, and so much more. Shade tolerant means just that; they will tolerate some shade, but all plants need some sun.

According to information on the Web, one way of propagating gerbera daisy is to store the basal shoot inside for the winter, and then in spring the shoots can be used as cuttings. What is the basal shoot, and is there any particular method of storing them to maximize success when transplanting in spring?

From a November 1997 British gardening magazine:

"Gerbera daisies are native to South Africa where they are perennial plants. They grow from a root crown that spreads slowly to form big clumps. To propagate, the clumps of crowns are lifted and divided. You can try to divide the crown if it's large enough, or you can pot the crown up and grow it indoors all winter. In the spring, new shoots will develop and you can divide the crown, leaving 2-3 buds or shoots on each division. Your divisions can be potted up for indoor or greenhouse plants, or grown outdoors beginning in April or May." If you leave it out for that next winter, you'll be treating it as an annual.

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