Plant of the week: bronze fennel

Bronze fennel provides an attractive contrast to other plants, plus adds a delicious anise flavor to salads and desserts. (Courtesy of Gerald Klingaman, Handout photo / September 1, 2014)

I'm tired of planting tulip bulbs for voles to eat. What bulbs won't they eat?

Squirrels, voles and chipmunks can all be the bane of bulb gardeners, but there are lots of rodent-proof choices — including daffodils, which now come in shades from pink to white with orange highlights, as well as many fascinating forms and fragrances. Other options include hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis), grape hyacinth (Muscari spp.), ornamental alliums, snowdrop (Galanthus spp.), summer snowflake (Leucojum spp.), Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica), glory of the snow (Chionodoxa spp.), crown imperial (Fritillaria imperialis), Grecian windflower (Anemone blanda), puschkinia and scilla.)

Every morning I find a good-sized pile of dark animal droppings on our terrace. I sweep it off and there is more the next day. It has seeds in it. What am I dealing with?

Some animals, such as a raccoon, will mark their territory with scat (feces). To positively identify the animal, you can either send us a photo through our website or try identifying the scat yourself at the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management website.

University of Maryland Extension's Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information. Call 800-342-2507 or send a question to its website at extension.umd.edu/hgic.

Plant of the week

Bronze fennel

Foeniculum vulgare 'Purpureum'

Attributes of this herb abound. The feathery foliage provides an attractive contrast to other plants, plus adds a delicious anise flavor to salads and desserts. The seeds are equally flavorful in a wide variety of culinary delights. As fennel grows to 4 or 5 feet tall, its yellow-bronze umbelliferous flowers provide nectar that attracts numerous insects, especially predator insects — a most desirable trait in the vegetable garden. Don't confuse this herb with bulb fennel — it never produces a bulb. Fennel prefers full sun, well-drained soil and consistent moisture. It will reseed readily and may require some thinning, but you'll want to grow extra anyway, because it's a favorite food for the beautiful caterpillars that turn into black swallowtail butterflies.

—Lew Shell