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GARDEN MAIDEN: Turning focus to the mother plants this fall

It was the last day of summer. Plunging into cool fog, steaming coffee wafted a trail of solemn gratitude along our morning commute, half a yard of synchronized steps to the combine, hand-in-hand with the love of my life.

Brisk air escorted a purposeful 360-degree scope for changing colors in the foliage that wraps us so unwittingly and rather effortlessly in the ebb and flow of life cycles. Colorful pansies and trailing petunias whose color just weeks ago faced off with busy season neglect and chronic waterless skies suddenly boasted bright new blooms and a fresh coat of green. A solo prized peach tinted pale yellow rose bush previously skeletonized by ghastly pests raised an upshoot of crisp, green growth, complete with a tiny single flag of glorious conquest disguised as a tender, burgundy edged leaf. The day’s first rays of sunlight swiftly dissolve an urge to remove the gnarled corpse of dangling evidence of a previous version of itself along with my role of mediating misunderstanding and cleaning up old wounds.

What if healing is effortless? What if nature’s balance and ability to adjust and adapt sufficiently invigorates all that is aligned with what is possible?

Here I was wondering all of this on a Friday, preparing for solemn Autumnal Equinox on the 22nd of September. Sure, steadfast. In perfect rhythm with the sun and lunar cycles irregardless of any natural disaster, political view or personal agenda. Nights get longer and the days shorten up minute by minute without due notice until our salty withdrawal mid-November once the fandango of fall colors flits away on gusts of fall leaves burning at dusk, extinguishing any evidence of late Summer’s green grass welcome mats.

For me, Autumn Equinox trumps Spring Solstice. It’s this sacred space of witnessing what is dying, finding the grace to let things go without letting hollow stalks that harbor dangerous bugs mimic healthy limbs ready to move forward when spring awakens. The shift to fall challenges me to embrace the cold, and trust that in just a few months, two days before my birthday, the days will lengthen again and stretch me through just one more month before I can get seeds going in the greenhouse.

Fall offers wonder and science of vivid energy, light rays, bursts of energy and awareness ablaze in a horizon of comforting fall color allowed for a short and treasured time to mask barrenness as perhaps unwilling trees are stripped of what makes them whole. Autumn escorts in a new year, a new cycle. Complete fallout before springing into movement and growth again come spring.

The last night of summer. I sit in peace, squeezing my niece and nephew, blessed to be the chosen one to fill their heads with fanciful wishes in elaborate details as we wink our wishes to the man in the moon. On purpose this night unlike so many nights before. On purpose tonight without telling the whole truth. On purpose this night, the eve of Autumn’s entrance, to trust in recovery and survival.

Saturday came. Autumn arrived. The very day I planned to sacredly turn in the earth and bury some fall bulbs. Truly matching the energy of the shift to equal nights, I sit paralyzed beneath the shade sail, wavering in the wind, barely hanging on.

Golden coleous lanks over the edge of beautiful blue pots, crinkled but glorious. Worn but intact. Stems solid and mostly upright, yet quick to snap at the flail of dog tail innocently bashing its stance as eagerness parades through beds flanking our patio. Youthfully oblivioun knows not its fatal dance. I grab a branch, shove it in the tall glass of water and despairingly hope for a few new roots to warrant a pot of dirt in a few short weeks. Rooted in love, my heart sang to match readiness for another round of potential life.

I look at all the mother plants. Plectranthus, coleus, verbena. Some green thumbs say pansies, though no matter how I stick 'em in any and all combinations, I just can’t seem to get any set roots. I thought these vivid blue pots would make things grow. Feng shui works outdoors too, right? Disappointment dulls grief further as I move through regret of letting life get in the way of my wedding march. These bright blue pots dotted the walls of our greenhouse all winter as seeds, cuttings and tiny plugs flashed their potential in my peripheral vision while my hands fumbled to give them space to grow. It was so hard. To give them room for growth and expansion when my mothering instinct was to pack them tight and safe and near each other. To touch each other, entangle leaves, share the nourishment beneath the surface to that any airborne destructive force would be no match for what comes from within.

All around me, I am looking at mother plants. Threads of bridal veil kneeling into the wood and mulch stretching thin roots at their knobby knees to anchor in and produce fresh strands of delicate white flowers when the days shorten and night is upon us.

Mums tuck their barely there color tenderly beneath long, curvy greens and all I can imagine is pricking them apart stem by stem to preserve the pot of mums mom loved so much on the few and far between visits to my new front porch. Tiny gourds hang on woven vines carefully set up to escape the rapid onset of mildew that consumes the plant alive in a matter of days. I pull death away, crush it in my hands, ooze its disgust between my fingers. A smile begs to beat the teardrops knowing this tiny pod protects a brood of seeds within, just waiting to grow again in some random area of a barren spring yard where the pup cracked open its shell in delight and buried it forever.

Autumn’s wings carry faith that what is done knows it is done. She knew she was done. And sometimes, even though I know it is going, it takes snowing it over to actually believe it is gone and never coming back again. So much to sowing and loving, forgiving and embracing, nurturing, witnessing and praising comes to a certain end. I call on every thread of wholeness to trust what I’ve taught so many all along. She is gone. Gone from the body, gone from my arms. I will never smell her again, never touch her tender skin again. I never get to brush her hair or kiss her smile to light up my own life again. But of this I am sure. She was, for her husband, five children, 16 grandchildren and countless friends, as constant and reliable as the rhythms of the moon. Rooting me in love, blooming in grace, and undoubtedly chiding death and deceit with intentional surrender as she navigated living on this earth. I heal quickly knowing she is now aligned with the very source of all miracles I witness.

God speed, Ginny Lou. May your energy and ripple of life forever bloom in our gardens.

To contribute an arrangement or garden art for mom’s Celebration of Life ceremony to be held at our residence on Saturday, Sept. 29, please send or deliver pieces on Friday from noon to dusk to the red barn at 2042 N. 2653rd Road, Marseilles. Notes and commemorations to your own loving mothers are welcome and will be read during our gathering. All arrangements will be relocated to our newlywed property in Grand Ridge following services and gathering where a horticulture therapy garden will be created in her honor.

HOLLY KOSTER is a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener who resides in Grand Ridge. She can be reached by emailing; via Twitter,@gardenmaiden9; or on Facebook,

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