Día de los Muertos

Nicho honoring my mom

This time of the year always reminds me of my mom, Michele Ley.  It was my mom who introduced me to the joys and realities of gardening.  I remember her oak barrels overflowing with the bright, rainbow colored Portulaca (moss rose)–it was with this plant that I first learned deadheading. Mom tended a patch of veggies and one year she tried cantaloupe. Only one fruit developed and we checked it every day to see if it was yet ripe. Unbeknownst to us, our dog Reggie also had an eye on the melon.  I’ll never forget my Mom’s cursing from the garden when she found Reggie sprawled out in the cool dirt with the half eaten remains of our cantaloupe matted in his fur.    

Halloween was Mom’s favorite holiday and she taught us to love it, as well.  Every year she would sew crazy, new costumes.  Whatever absurd thing we fancied, she made happen.  Pineapple? Volcano? Black widow spider?  No problem for Mom: she loved the creativity and the spirit of Halloween; not only the costumes, but decorating and trick or treating. 

Being a fan of the accessibility and humor of folk art, especially that from Mexico, she also loved Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).  Like many nurses I know, Mom was accepting of death as part of the cycle of life and the way Mexican culture relates to loved ones who have passed appealed to her.  She enjoyed the multi-colored skull candies, the skeleton figurines and the idea of honoring the deceased with joyous remembrance.  One year our family went to the Day of the Dead celebrations on Olvera Street in Los Angeles.  The intimate, personalized altars and tributes to family members and friends were touching.  We took each one in: the offerings of marigolds, trinkets, tequila and the decorative details—some sad, some political, some funny…all beautiful and moving.

Mom and one of her sayings

When my mom passed away three years ago, I thought it fitting to create little shrine shadow boxes, or nichos, to remember her on Día de los Muertos.  I built one for each of my sisters; knowing Mom would love them.  Each one is different, made with embellishments like painted bottle caps and skulls surrounding the photo of my smiling mother in the center.  For one nicho, I used random, decoupaged images of things Mom loved: nasturtiums, avocados, angels.  For another, a sky replete with sun, moon and stars and carved shell flower beads below.  On the back the nichos, a different photo with one of her funny sayings: a reminder of her self-effacing sense of humor, one of her most endearing qualities.

I think of Mom at all times of the year, but the Halloween season is especially emotional.  I miss her love of life, her cackle of a laugh and how real she was.  So as we approach November 2nd, Día de los Muertos, celebrated as All Souls Day by some on the 1st, I say to my Mom: Te Quiero.

About Colleen Miko

Colleen Miko is a certified professional horticulturist with 20+ years experience in landscape design who has designed award winning gardens for the NW Flower & Garden Show as well as HGTV’s “Landscaper’s Challenge”. Colleen is freelance garden writer and speaker.
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4 Responses to Día de los Muertos

  1. Angie Porter says:

    This was very touching Colleen. I will be thinking of Michele, toasting to her saying Hoo Hoo! I love your mom dearly and I love how much you girls have taken after her with imagination, creativity and so much love and life! Awesome job on the Nicho

  2. Day of the Dead is such a healthy mix of remembrance and joy and laughter. Michele would have been touched by your beautiful tribute to her. I’ll take the time to remember my own mother who introduced me to gardening which itself is probably the most amazing reminder of the cycle of life. Peace and laughter to you, Colleen!

    • Colleen Miko says:

      Mom had a warm spot in her heart for you and John. Your mother must have been an amazing woman, with all the talents you have developed, from horticulture to photography and beyond. Today I also remember my maternal grandparents, who spring into my mind whenever I smell the honey fragrance of alyssum and the astringent bite of lantana. My paternal grandmother Annastasia, whose garden beds featured a madonna surrounded by silk flowers, but who taught me the value of physical flexibility–she was a dancer who could still do the splits into her 60s. My good friend Vince who with the brightest smile I’ve ever known, would see us off with “Drive Crazy!”

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