Q: I have had a blue flax plant for several years, but this year it died. Why?
A: It is not surprising that the blue flax died after several years in your garden. Although a perennial, blue flax has a short lifespan. In many gardens an individual plant lives only three years. What is surprising is that you still had only one plant. Blue flax grows easily from seed. If it is happy in its home — with lots of sunshine and soil that drains well — I would have expected it to have a crowd of descendants by now. I would have expected the original plant to be surrounded by a colony of seedlings.
Why that did not happen can be only a subject for speculation. Perhaps your plant was sterile and made no seeds. Perhaps it made seeds which never fell on fertile ground. Perhaps seedlings were lost or destroyed before they could grow.
If you want another blue flax, that should not be difficult. You can buy seeds or a plant to replace your previous one. Planting either in the place where the old plant lived sounds like a good idea. That original one must have liked the spot to have flowered there for several years. This time, be sure that the new plant can scatter its seeds.
After the blue flowers die, they will be replaced by seedpods like little green balls. It is not necessary to let all the flowers make seeds, but try to leave perhaps a quarter of them while the seeds mature and then scatter on the ground. Remember that the seeds are there as you clean up the garden for winter. Do not scrape the ground clean, because the litter removed would include the seeds for next year's blue flax. Leave the dead flax plants until late winter, so that some seeds will be sure to drop in the flower bed.
As the garden begins to sprout new plant life in spring, watch for miniature flax plants. They will be only a couple of inches tall and will have only a single stem, but they will have feathery leaves like the big plant. When the year comes, as it surely will, that your next blue flax does not sprout new leaves, there should be several other blue flax to take its place.
Q: Usually I plant my corn on the first warm days of May, but this year there were no warm days. How can I get my corn started in time to have ears to eat before summer is over?
A: Since it loves hot weather, corn is not a vegetable to push into early production. Without cooperation from the weather, the seeds and plants will only sit and sulk. It is certainly possible to warm the soil a few degrees before planting. It is certainly possible to plant a few days ahead of the last expected frost, but not too many days ahead. Those of us who make bad guesses about when the last frost will come spend too many evenings covering all the tender plants in the garden.
By the way, a gardener asked recently about covering tomato plants with plastic on cold nights. That is not a good plan. Plastic laid flat on dirt does help to warm the dirt during the day, and the dirt holds its warmth at night. Plastic draped over a plant lets frost form on the cover and the top leaves which touch the plastic. Both cloth and newspaper are better at protecting plants from cold.
There are ways to start corn as early as possible. They can be used individually or in combination. The first way is to choose the type of corn carefully. The old-fashioned varieties and the supersweet ones (the kind that you find in grocery stores these days) will not germinate well in cool soil. Sugar enhanced (se) corn and the even newer type called synergistic will sprout in cool — although not cold — soil.
If your corn growing area is not too big, cover the dirt with plastic for a week or so before planting corn. After the seeds are in the ground, nonwoven row cover will keep the soil and the seeds a little warmer; leave it in place until the plants are an inch or two tall. If you grow only a few corn plants, it even is possible to start them in the house for later transplanting. Because corn roots object to being moved or handled, plant the seeds in pots only three weeks before you expect to move them to the garden, so that roots do not become crowded in the pot. Using plantable pots means that roots will never be touched or disturbed by their move.
Other than those techniques, prayers and magic spells are the only ways I know to create a warm bubble around the rows of corn.
Corn originated in a warm area of central Mexico, bred by early farmers from the wild plant called teosinte. Teosinte was planted and grown as a food crop at least 9000 years ago, but it would hardly be recognized by eaters of sweet corn today. It looks like a short corn plant with several stalks and some small groups of kernels along the stems. There were no cobs, and the kernels were rock hard.
Farmers bred and improved teosinte for centuries, until they arrived at a plant that was recognizably corn. Anthropologists have found 3500 year old corn cobs, just an inch or two long. As corn improved, plantings spread as far south as Central America and as far north as the southwestern United States. It is quite possible that people first consumed corn by making beer from it. Only later, say many anthropologists, did they grind corn kernels into flour.
Although corn eventually was grown much farther away from its point of origin, in cooler areas it was only one crop among many, not the staple food of the native diet. Where corn was the staple food, people learned to soak the kernels in lime water, with the lime coming from wood ash. That released amino acids enough to make a diet based on corn a healthy one.
Today's sweet corn, eaten fresh, arose as a natural mutation of field corn. It was grown and eaten by several Native American tribes, but the first written mention was only in 1779, when some sweet corn was given by Iroquois to local English settlers. The rest of the story is history.
Q: Is there a hosta that is more deer resistant and sun tolerant?
A: Sun tolerant, yes. The hostas with yellow leaves or yellow variegations are most likely to grow well with some sun. Some varieties with white variegations also can tolerate sun. Blue hostas never do well in sun. You may have to try more than one to find a sun tolerant plant, though. Nor can any hosta stand hot afternoon sun. Watch for brown leaf tips. They are a sign that the hosta needs shade.
Deer resistance is like slug resistance. It does not exist in hostas.