September 25, 2013

Mum's the Word

Like pumpkins and football, we just have to have them when it gets to be sweater weather.  After all, fall just wouldn't be fall without them. Take my quiz to find out what kind of mum lover you are. 

The Traditionalist

You've used these classic fall bloomers in your autumn landscape for years. You know how to maximize their colorful impact with a minimum amount of work.  No digging for you;
you know how to nestle them into your still-blooming flower beds, plastic pot and all.  They'll look great next to your bronze coleus and strappy grasses.  You wisely keep them watered during dry and windy spells, and deadhead their spent flowers (or replace the whole pot..any un-named variety will do... you know they're inexpensive this time of year) if they look less than fresh.  Well done, you, for an easy seasonal update!

The Sophisticate

Let the others use the flaming gold, bronze, yellow and deep red colors.  You prefer your mums in more subtle and sophisticated hues.  Nothing but white and lavender daisy mums for you.  

You'll start with your existing garden greenery and tuck in these softer colored mums along with some pots of frilly, leafy kale. For good measure, you nestle in some bone-colored gourds and pumpkins.  The effect:  romantic, elegant, sophisticated.  Just what you were shooting for.

 The Minimalist
You want mums with a contemporary, modern vibe.  No ruffly daisy mums will work.  You like your mums in cushion or button varieties only.  Maybe some 'Yoko Ono' cushion mums?  Pure petals tightly packed from the center to the edge; that's your style. Maybe in chartreuse and umber, but definitely no more than two colors.  Three staggered galvanized pots or buckets of them on your front steps will make just the right statement.  You know to handle their rigid flower stems carefully when planting, and as long as the pots have drainage, no need to worry about the quality of soil or feeding.  This is strictly 'wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am' style gardening.  When they're done, you'll simply toss them in the compost heap.

The Host or Hostess

No donning sunscreen for you. You'll take your mums inside, thank you very much.  They will be a beautiful component of the fall centerpiece on your dining room table.  You can pick some up at the grocery store along with your menu items. 

You'll arrange some in a flow blue cache pot along with some fall fruit and cheese creating just the soiree look you want for your dinner party.  Some candles, some nuts, some guests. Voila!  You, and your mums, never looked better.

 The Set Designer
You like your mums as supporting cast members to a complete fall display.  Scarecrows, hay bales, corn stalks, pumpkins, gourds...and huge pots of mums, of course.
The scarecrow will get the most attention, but wouldn't be nearly so impressive without your large and gorgeous pots of mums at his (her?) feet.   In heavy bloom you can see them glowing from a block away.  You'll take your mums extra-large please and plop them down wherever you want huge shots of fall color.  'Mammoth Mum Red Daisy' would look spectacular.

  The True Gardener
Your friends and neighbors may go for immediate mum-gratification, but not you.  You actually planted the ones you purchased last fall.
Dug the big whole, added compost, kept them watered and fed.  You even remembered to keep them sheered until the Fourth of July to postpone bloom until autumn.  You planted them at the front of the flower border with the purple coleus and gold crotons.  Now, they look lovely from your living room window...well worth the extra effort.

 The Homecoming Queen
You are all about that big ol' pompom or spider mum variety.  Like the one in your homecoming queen corsage.  Spider mums  if you recall correctly.
They may have originated in China and Japan, but they've been thoroughly Americanized now.  

You know them as 'football mums'.  A casual bouquet of them, with their thick, sturdy stems, will be perfect for the game tail-gate this weekend.  Game on!

September 23, 2013

The Broken Tusk

As long as I'm missing my dad, I might as well jump in with both feet and...

be inconsolable about missing my older son, now in India, as well. 

I miss him sitting at the kitchen table writing his heart out. Some kids relax and chill out when they have free time...

my kid writes.  And writes beautifully I might add. 

I invite you to follow him on
his adventures in India and around the world...

by reading his blog THE BROKEN TUSK.

His posts have a wonderfully sensual, non-judgmental perspective that makes for fascinating reading (if I do say so myself)...about places and people and cultures that most of us will never experience first least not with his degree of intensity and keen cultural insight.

So there's my sales pitch for his blog. Not that he asked me to peddle his posts.

I just thought you'd enjoy them...consider them a free gift from me

oh, and him

to you.

September 22, 2013


My Dad's life would make a great movie. Not just because he was movie star handsome in his youth, or because he was insanely charismatic, or because he was a full fledged member of the greatest generation.

But because the story of his life is eminently compelling; sometimes tragic and sometimes remarkable ...the unique strokes of fate and luck and talent and serendipity that painted the portrait of his 88 years. 

The Cliff Note's version: A middle child, one of nine born in small town Indiana just before the Depression...

star on this same small town's storied basketball team that made it to the big time in the state finals... 

(Dad is on the front row, right end)

a basketball career he later continued as a walk on for Purdue after the war...
where he served as a B17 bomber pilot in the European theater.

Later pharmacy school and marriage to his first wife...

who bore him seven children.. and then tragically died of asthma at 36. 

I was five years old at the time; my siblings ranged in age from 1 to 12. (Next time your having a bad day, imagine getting THAT phone call on a Saturday morning.)

A little over a year later, this father of seven married a surgical nurse;

who prior to that had been a nun (are you still with me, here?)

They wed the year THE SOUND OF MUSIC was released. 
Parallels between the two stories were inevitable: the same number of children; the same number of sons and daughters, and approximately the same ages.  

We were, during our family's fifteen minutes of fame, the darlings of the women's page we would undoubtedly have our own reality show; or, at the very least

appear on Oprah, or, god forbid, Dr. Phil.

We would have undergone years of counseling, individually and collectively, I feel sure.

But that was then, and this is now. 'Then' soon included my father almost immediately uprooting his Indianapolis family and moving them to Knoxville, Tennessee (compliments of his up-and-coming career  with Eli Lilly Pharmaceutical). 

The moving van arrived the day Kennedy was shot. 

A day imprinted in memory for many reasons.

Shortly after the move, a set of twins was born...and not too long after, another son.

And then there were ten: six daughters and four sons.

All put themselves through college culminating in one MD, two PhD's, and three more graduate degrees.

Later years would bring retirement after a legendary 37 years with Lilly (and a son who now works for them),

 a 50 year wedding anniversary,

the death of a son...the births of twenty grandchildren and three great-grandchildren children

and now a huge hole in the lives of his family and friends who lost him on September 6.

He died in his own bed. The golf channel, volume silenced, played non-stop in the background. L'il Sis put on the Big Band music of his youth. His youngest son and namesake told story after story about the man. We asked the priest who administered last rites if he had ever heard so much laughter on such an occasion...lots of well as tears from his wife, six adoring (and I don't use that word casually) children, three grandchildren and two daughters-in-law who were a his side at the end.

Almost 300 people came to his calling hours...sharing everlasting memories... not bad for a man of 88 years.

On behalf of his children, I was privileged to write and deliver the eulogy at his proud to be his child. Equally as proud to be related to my remarkable brothers and sisters, delivering our final message:

 Sleep well, Dad. We hope we've done you proud.

Yesterday on NewsChannel 4 Linda Cavanaugh and I discussed growing and preserving Everlastings, or flowers that can be easily cut and dried. Watch it here.

September 18, 2013

Over Seeding with Bent Grass

Timing is everything in the garden. When to prune and when to pull, when to plant and when to plan. These are things I had to calendar as a novice gardener. Now, after over twenty years of gardening,

I do most of these things by instinct. Feeling my way through the seasons as much as following the guidelines for my zone and climate and circumstance.

A little over two weeks ago, L'il Sis called to tell me that Dad had experienced a couple of health scares, but after a quick trip to the emergency room on each occasion, he returned to his normal, wry, witty and charming self...

without evidence of any great lasting effects.  Still...she said. 

At the time, I was spending a last few days with my older son who was about to head to India for a year to do research.

I had some financial things to take care of with my folks (I handle their financial affairs), but had been putting off my trip to Indiana until my son was underway, and I had removed a number of exceedingly unimportant things from my plate. 

But I told L'il Sis...sounds like it's time  to  head home.  

The morning I arrived my father had a major stroke. 
It happened just before I got there. 

Not this visit would his face light up when I walked into his room as he belted out                     well, HELLO,  Skinny Linny!

Instead, we took him to the hospital where for four days he was pricked and probed...until we had some kind of idea where he was, and more importantly, where he might go.

He was confused most of this time...primarily we think from seizures and tremors resulting from the stroke

Still, he gave us some glimpses of his old self. Enjoying a few spoonfuls of ice cream my mother fed him. Stroking her hand with his thumb in response to the gentle pressure of her grip.
Subtle, but familiar, signs of acknowledgement... as we

would cradle his head and stroke his face....rub his back, and  try, usually in vain, to make him more comfortable. I was proud; we all were proud

to be his advocate, his caregiver, his child. 

No time was better spent.

While away, I had a friend and 'grass' professional (TURFGUARD, overseed my front lawn. Something I normally do myself. As happens every summer, my front yard, (which, because of my large oak tree, can grow neither shade or full sun/warm or cool season grass varieties effectively) succumbed to heat, humidity, fungal issues and heavy traffic of the summer months. My part bermuda, part fescue turf looks great in fall and spring---because I overseed each fall with a perennial rye or fescue.  

But this year, I'm trying Bent Grass (yes, that lush grass of golf courses; buy seed and read about it here) thinking I'd try something new that might, just MIGHT, prove successful in surviving my summer lawn conditions. 

I was told germination would be in 10-14 days, but because of his excellent soil preparation, warm soil, and frequent, but light watering, it germinated in 4 days.  

I now have a nice blush of green fuzz on the bare soil...something I am so happy to have after my trip to Indiana. A fresh, green start.

If you are wanting to over seed your turf, with fescue, rye or bent grass, NOW IS THE TIME.  It will be time well spent.

For more information on specific how-to's of over seeding go here.