LAST SUMMER, furry, bluish, flat-to-the-ground rosettes erupted in my backyard, creating a sort of lake effect in the sunniest section — a section that was then, and still remains, an untamed wilderness. I let the rosettes be, even though they are weeds, sort of, and easy to pull out. I wanted to see what would happen, and I had no other plans for that space.
I knew they were called mullein and recognized them from roadsides and other ‘waste places,’ as the Connecticut Botanical Society would have it, although I resent them for implying any part of my garden is a waste place.
This summer, they’ve shot to a height of 6 feet or more, sending up flowering yellow spikes. They are, properly, verbascum thapsus, a snapdragon relative, and they are biennial, forming rosettes one year, flowering the next, then going to seed and dying off. They have a long history of being used for everything from medicinal teas, yellow dye, and lamp wicks to (since they can be slightly irritating to the skin), ‘Quaker rouge.’
Clearly, they’re sun-loving, and I’m watching where they spread to determine the sunniest part of the yard — which right now appears to be a diamond-shaped space about 20 feet across and equally long.
I recently thought of fencing in just that area and growing whatever I damn well please there, be it tomatoes and other veggies, or roses and all the sun-loving, deer-attracting flowers I haven’t been above to make happen elsewhere in the yard. I would love to have a cutting garden; and I wouldn’t have to fence in the whole half-acre, which was going to cost about $5,000. That was one strike against the deer fence concept I’ve been ruminating over for the past two years. The other was that I haven’t been able to come to terms with the prospect of losing my uninterrupted view into the woods and replacing it with a network of posts and wire mesh.
Whether my cutting garden is a workable idea remains to be seen. I’m starting to track the hours of sunlight on paper, and I’m not sure there are really more than 3 hours even there. Meanwhile, I’ve grown to appreciate the verbascum, and if a fenced cutting garden doesn’t come together by the summer of ’12, I’ll get to see what happens next.