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Dr. Dirt, Indianapolis’ head gardener, hangs up his lab coat

Dick Crum, aka Dr. Dirt (left), regularly teamed up with Pat Sullivan to dispense gardening advice. Crum, 82, retired from a nearly six-decades career in media and horticulture. Photo courtesy Ted Austin/SullivanHardware.com

In what seems a lifetime ago, I signed up for a landscaping class through IUPUI’s continuing studies program in the 1980s. At the front of the classroom on the 38th Street campus was Dr. Dirt himself, Dick Crum.

Of course, I’d heard of him as an extension educator. He had a weekly column in The Indianapolis News, dispensing prescriptions to control moles, peony planting and how to get rid of creeping Charlie in the lawn. Dick was a celebrity. He was funny and he was smart.

His enthusiasm and love of horticulture and gardening has done more to encourage us to take up the trowel than anyone in Indianapolis. After nearly six decades in radio, television, newspapers and lecture hall, Dick is retiring his Dr. Dirt lab coat.

When he started writing his column, he told editors that he wasn’t a writer. That’s all right, they said. You are a gardener, they said, and you are real and that’s what comes through for the reader.

He and Jody, his wife of 60 years, have lived on Indianapolis’ west side in the Chapel Hill area for more than 50 years, where they reared four sons and gardened on a typical suburban lot. In about every spare space, there are compost piles and mounds of chopped leaves, ingredients that come from nature and are returned to nature.

Dick Crum chops leaves for use around his west side home. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Always frugal, his landscape is ringed with stacks of firewood, mostly ash, he said, from trees felled by the emerald ash borer on his lot and neighbors. The firewood goes into a wood-burning stove to heat his home in winter. “The basement is 80 degrees, the first floor 70 degrees and the upstairs, 60 degrees,” he said.

When I first started writing about garden, Dick encouraged me to join Garden Writers Association. He was a member and had trialed dozens of plants and attended annual symposiums. It’s a great group, he said, and it was and it is. You should take the Master Gardener training, he told me. I did that, too.

Dick’s fame allowed him to partner with American Trans Air to fill planes headed to the Philadelphia Flower Show and many other horticulture events all over the country.

So, we bid adieu to Dr. Dirt and wish him good health, good travels and good gardening. Thank you for being Indianapolis’ head gardener.

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