The Mums That Didn’t Make It
October 23, 2015
This column was originally published in the October issues of ABOUT the River Valley magazine.
This past week we moved to a larger house. This is the fifth move we’ve made since we started gardening about a decade ago. We’ve gardened in the Ozarks, in western Kentucky, and in both large and small towns near the Arkansas River. We tell ourselves our next move — the one where we build a house in the country by the creek at the foot of the mountain — will be the last time we box up our belongings and set out for larger spaces. We’ll see.
Moving boxes is tedious and sometimes backbreaking. Moving a garden is a process of letting go. You have to weigh the risks of removing each plant versus leaving it behind. The day after we’d moved our belongings over to our new house I sat in my front yard with spade in hand running through my options: Should I move this rosemary? Would digging it up kill the roots? What about this foxglove? Will the next people who live here care for the plant? If not maybe I should just dig it up and take my chances?
Some decisions were easy to make. I quickly dug into the roots of the yarrow. It’s easy to move, hardy and always defies the odds. The echinacea, too. The lavender is a bit more delicate, but I decided it was worth the risk. As expected, the milkweed and marigolds have made the move just fine. But I think I killed the mums.
My favorite thing about Chrysanthemums is their ubiquity. By October they’re in full bloom, lining the garden beds with deep shades of red, orange, and burgundy. They’re simple, colorful, and — despite my own recent experience — terribly easy to care for. When temperatures are dropping and leaves are falling from the trees, mums help close out the flower garden.
These particular mums were at least four-years-old, a bright orange variety that matched the pumpkins. In theory they should have lasted several more years, but I’ve been gardening long enough to know that sometimes plants just die. I haven’t been gardening long enough to always know exactly why this happens. In this case, I probably didn’t get enough of the root. Of course, you can never garden long enough to know all the whys. Gardening is just like that. Sometimes things die. Sometimes they live despite the harshest of odds. This is why gardening is both a release from and an immersion into life itself.
Since the mums bit the dust I’ve started thinking back on all the mums in my life. My husband and I were married on a cold November day over a decade ago, and we filled the Civilian Conservation Corps building where we said our vows with mums of all shades. We gave most of the plants away, but took a few home and planted them around the alley near the house we rented from Marcia, our wonderfully eccentric, cat-loving landlord. When we moved to Kentucky we took the brightest red mum with us and left it there when we moved two years later. I like to imagine it’s still adding color to that little yellow house on High Street.
My mother always loved mums. She loved autumn in general. As the air begins to change I find myself daydreaming about how we used to pick out a pattern for a Halloween costume, the smell of soup on the stove as I walked through the front door, or her front porch filled with hay bales and kitschy seasonal decorations. She died during an October. The mums that were given to us for her funeral I planted in my own garden the month after she died. When we moved to Little Rock I started fresh with several new varieties, most of which are still safely in the ground awaiting a new renter. They’ll be blooming just in time to welcome in the new folks. Except that orange one, of course; it’s a goner.
After we get settled in at this new place I think I’ll probably go pick a few new mums from a local grower. I can’t imagine a fall garden without them. I’ll let my sons pick out the colors, and I’m sure my toddling daughter will want to help dig up a place for flowers or eat some of the dirt while I’m busy digging the hole. I think when it’s time to move again — you know, to our dream home with nearby creek and water catchment system and six dogs and three goats and a donkey and mule running around in the yard — maybe I’ll just leave the new mums here. I’ll buy some from a Yell County grower for the new place. I kind of like the idea of leaving a trail of fall flowers across the state.