My I-380 Garden

By Larry Rettig (LarryR) on January 4, 2014

It was a warm evening in May, in fact the third warm evening in a row, when the phone rang just before dark. It was our daughter, Robin, calling to inquire about her window air conditioner. My wife and I had stored it for her in our attic during the off-season, and she allowed as how it was getting rather warm in her apartment. Could I please come and install her air conditioner? Being the ever dutiful and doting parent, I responded, “Of course!”


West end of the I-380 garden. Please click to
enlarge. Note the hosta border in the background.
The lichen encrusted oak chair, built by my father,
and the H. mediovarigata hostas were added later.

The 25-mile trip was easy enough.  Main highways and interstate almost to her doorstep.  We had a pleasant chat as I installed the rather unwieldy machine in the customary bedroom window.  As our visit came to an end, I gave her a goodbye hug, wished her well, climbed into my car, and set off into the night.  On my way back onto I-380, I noticed that the dashboard lights were rather dim.  I assumed that either my wife or I had accidentally brushed against the light control (which had happened off and on in the past).  But no, the switch was turned to its brightest setting.

Odd, I thought.  Back on the interstate, another odd event.  The local radio station began to fade without my having touched the controls.  Now I was really puzzled.  Worried even.  When the headlights began to grow dimmer.  I knew I was in deep trouble.

Afraid that the whole car would soon die in the midst of interstate traffic, I took the next exit.  As I turned onto the exit ramp, the car gave one last gasp and expired.  I coasted to the end of the ramp and came to a stop under the street light there.  I pulled my trusty bag phone (remember those?) out from under my seat to call my wife.  The batteries on those phones were huge and heavy—and rarely worked.  Mine didn’t.  An adapter plug allowed me to use the car’s battery via the cigarette lighter socket.  Nothing.  I pulled the plug out of the socket and stuck it in a second time, just in case I had a bad connection.  Still nothing.  The car’s battery was dead, too.

In the distance to my right I could see a gas station about a quarter mile away.  I locked the car, and set out on foot, grumbling as I went—grumbling not only because the car had died but because my feet hurt.  I have nerve-damaged feet, had used them a lot during the day, and now they really hurt.  I looked up in the midst of my grousing just in time to see the gas station go dark.

Despite my feet, I broke into a run, arriving just as the owner was getting into his truck.  I explained my predicament and asked if he would allow me to use his phone.  He was happy to do so and unlocked the station for me.  I called my wife, thanked the station guy profusely, and set off for the car.

It would take a good half hour for my wife to rescue me.  Once back at the car, I searched for a way to keep my mind off my feet in the meantime.  As I was pondering my predicament, I caught sight of the pad of paper I keep in the car for notes and sketches.  Perfect.  I’ll design a garden!

For several years I had been fretting about the lawn on the north side of our house.  The two fruit trees located there had grown large enough to shade the entire lawn.  Why not put a garden there?  It was such a simple solution.  Being a lifelong gardener, I was amazed I hadn’t thought of making a garden there before.

I decided to lay out a circular bed halfway between the two trees, outlined with flagstones.  In it I would plant my collection of fragrant hostas.  I located more hostas in a smaller circle around each tree.  Here I would use H. ‘Undulata Albomarginata,’ which I had already planted in most of our other beds as a sort of theme plant that helped to tie the whole garden together.  The back of the new bed would butt up against a long row of H. ‘Undulata Albomarginata that delineated the front edge of a mixed shrub border.  The front of the bed would be defined by a newly laid cobblestone walkway.  I filled in the spaces around the three hosta circles with Japanese Pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis) and Yellow Fumewort (Corydalis lutea).

I was still contemplating my new garden plan when my wife pulled her car up alongside mine.  On the way home, I mulled the plan’s details over in my mind to be sure everything was arranged the way I wanted and that the plants I had selected were really the ones I wanted to use.

What had been a harrowing experience ended in triumph.  I could hardly wait until the next morning to get started on my new garden..

Air conditioner photo courtesy of and used here under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.



Related articles:
car trouble, Corydalis lutea, garden plans, gardening, hostas, Pachysandra

About Larry Rettig
"An enthusiastic gardener for over 50 years, my first plant was a potted Ponderosa Lemon tree ordered from a comic book ad at age 15. I still have it, and it’s still bearing lemons! My wife and I garden on 3/4 of an acre, both flowers and vegetables. Our garden, named Cottage-in-the-Meadow Gardens, is private and is listed with the Smithsonian Institution in its Archives of American Gardens. It is also on the National Register of Historic Places. We garden organically and no-till. Our vegetable garden contains a seed bank of vegetables brought to this country from Germany in the mid-1800s by my ancestors. My latest book, Gardening the Amana Way, is available at

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Lovely garden but... Zanymuse Jan 16, 2014 4:01 AM 10

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