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October in the Garden with Second Bloom

Updated: Jan 25

by Marsha Ackerman

Fall is complicated. It is the shortening of days, the decline of the growing season, and the foreshadowing of colder times. But it is also the reaping of harvest and the planting (bulbs) of the future. It is my absolute favorite season, but also holds the dampening weight of melancholy. Fall is Dahlia, Aster, Black-eyed-Susan, Japanese Anemone ....and Beautyberry. Thanks to my dear friend Kristen, Beautyberry will always be the ultimate symbol of faith and hope for me. Early in our friendship she stopped by my house in late January to find me in the back yard heavily pruning my Beautyberry bush down to what appeared to be a few half-living sticks coming out of the ground. She laughed at me and said there was no way 'that poor thing' would survive. Kristen shared my love of the garden, but this particular shrub was new to her, and she did not yet know its magic. Both of us being a bit competitive, I could not wait to prove her wrong. The irony of the situation was that Kristen had come over, in part, to talk with me about faith. I believe different people come in and out of our lives for a reason, and Kristen was the living embodiment of kindness and faith. Her steadfastness could be intimidating at times to someone like me who has vacillated to the extremes of conviction and incredulity. I was lucky enough to share numerous discussions with her about the deeper issues of life. She had the gift to see goodness in the difficult and hope in brokenness.

When summer had passed, and fall was setting in I took a picture of my behemoth Beautyberry bush. By that point it was five feet around and sheathed in luminous purple berries. I could not wait for her to experience the wonder of its rejuvenation. When she received my picture via text, she immediately called me with peals of laughter streaming through the telephone and pronounced that there was no doubt that for me God lived in the garden.

This week marks two years since Kristen died at far too young an age and the grief is still so overwhelming. But as the Beautyberry ripens, I reminisce on the beauty of her gifts during that season of my life. The fall garden holds all of the complexities of our human experience; the fresh loveliness of our fall blooming buds, the savoring of the glamorous dahlia in which we have invested time and love, and the learning how to let go of our earthly treasure. It is rich and sensual and multifaceted. It is a poignant reminder to be present to the beauty of now, to find joy wherever we can, and to sow seeds of love in the garden and each other.

What to do this month in the garden:

  • Plant drifts of spring bulbs, including crocuses, daffodils and fritillaries.

  • Plant evergreen shrubs and conifer hedges while the soil is still warm. As long as plants have 3-4 weeks to establish roots there is still time to plant!

  • Trim conifer hedges to neaten them up and control height.

  • Move deciduous shrubs that are in the wrong place or have outgrown their current position.

  • Empty spent summer pots and hanging baskets and compost the contents.

  • Collect seeds from plants as they ripen. Put them in a paper envelope and save yourself some money for next year. It really isn't difficult. This is also a great task to give kids!

  • Deadhead dahlias and perennials to encourage a constant display of blooms. Don't lift dahlia tubers until the top growth dies back or is killed by the first hard frost. The longer they are kept in the ground, the more mature they will be, and chances are better they will survive in storage.

Something to read:

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland

Not every book I read is educational :) This is "An enchanting and captivating novel, about how our untold stories haunt us - and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive." It is beautifully written, reminds us of the gifts of flowers, and I savored every minute of it!


Something to listen to:

'I miss you most of all my darling, when autumn leaves begin to fall'


Marsha & Celia

With love, Celia & Marsha

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