Tag Archives: gardening


We moved this summer, a few miles north to an older house with a larger yard. The work of transporting six people and all their junk to a new location has been, not surprisingly, disruptive. My bicycle commute has tripled (happily for the miles spent in the wind, less so for the lost writing time). Grocery shopping seems, for the moment, more complicated. Everyone’s routine has shifted–showers, laundry, homework locations and personal turf. And, we moved right smack in the middle of the growing season. Thus, I “waited” until this week to plant our fall garden. Lettuces, radishes, spinach and greens are all sweeter in the cool months. So, after a blistering hot summer, I’m hoping for a sunny, but mild fall with a late frost. Given that a large ash tree shades most of the garden, we’ll probably need more than 45 days to have a full harvest. The ash tree will make gardening a challenge next year. I may have to grow sun hungry plants in containers or find a spot in a local community garden. On the other hand, I’ve discovered that shade extends the life of some garden plants. The basil, for example, which I moved in pots to our new location, is sweeter and greener than in past years. Without full exposure to the sun, it has not gone to seed … and so, we have spring-flavored basil in late August.

I have been reading Wallace Stevens’ “Sunday Morning” one stanza at a time before falling asleep. At this age, I am neither challenged nor amused by it. I read the second book of the Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea series, The Tombs of Atuan, in half as much time. In my life, both worlds, Earthsea and the land of quiet Sunday mornings with coffee and elaborate rugs, seem equally distant. I may be due for another reading of Don Quixote soon, or maybe, after the frost, more Coleridge.


Urban Mullein

Verbascum thapsus

Projekt Runeberg: CAM Lindman: Bilder ur Nordens Flora. 1917-1926.

A vacant house in my neighborhood sports a good paint job, a well-kept lawn, and a hedge garden with three, very tall mullein plants. Apparently, the folks who are paid to mow the grass do not know that “Cowboy Toilet Paper” is not a popular landscaping plant.

Though near enough, the three plants grow separated by a distance which would suggest a deliberate planting. At over eight feet tall, they make a fetching place to stop on an otherwise concrete and asphalt tour of this part of urban Indianapolis. The plant is a weed, an invasive from Europe. Invasive, but with a longer history on this soil than have many of my relatives. Verbascum thapsus has some merit (medicinally, structurally, and in pure, but restrained tenacity … it can also be used to harvest fish) and perhaps it has a claim to this place which equals my own. As weeds go, I prefer it to the monocultural, yellow stretches of drab and squat day lilies planted in city medians.

For the vacant house, however, it is a sad but fitting monument. No one lives there to rip it from the garden, but (even sadder) someone meant to garden, but left the work unfinished. Mullein seeds rest in the soil for years waiting for someone to scalp the sod and start a project. Exposed, they germinate. Two years later (two years after a garden’s false start) they shoot up a bloom spike and prepare to drop their tiny seeds nearby. Biennials, the plants will die this winter and fall over sometime in the spring. The surrounding weeds will prevent a new crop of mullein. Thus, so it is, for one year only, a vacant house boasts the most interesting hedge garden on its street.