By LUCILLE SIDER
My Christmas Coleus is a centerpiece of Christmas harmony, bursting with red and green.
It’s actually six plants all growing together in a big pot and has become a Christmas Coleus that truly represents my community.
Here’s how this unusual Christmas story unfolded: In the spring of this year, 2021, I drove by St. Francis Hospital in Evanston, Illinois and was stunned—truly stunned—by the deep red coleus garden. The garden was almost a half-block long and 6 feet wide. I had never, ever seen a coleus garden so big and so utterly beautiful.
I was smitten!
A week later I took my friend Barbara to that amazing garden. She has a beautiful outside garden and is always on the look-out for new flowers. She was immediately mesmerized. I then carefully instructed her to snip off some coleus slips. Slips are a single strand of the plant. When placed in water for a few weeks, they grow roots. Then all you need is a little pot, a little soil, a little water—and BINGO—you have your own, beloved coleus plant!
A week or two later, I visited my friend Daryce and we sat on her deck, listening to the birds and delighting in the plants. I immediately learned that she, too, loves coleuses and had quite a variety. In fact, she gave me a large plant, over a foot in height. It was more like a small tree with a trunk than a typical coleus plant. The leaves were a vibrant green with dark red stripes. Absolutely gorgeous!
I could not wait to get home, snip some of those long branches, place them in water and watch the tiny roots grow. Before I knew it, I had eighteen coleus plants, nine red ones and nine green ones with glorious red stripes.
When Barbara dropped by I gave her some of the green plants with the striped leaves. She planted three of these and three of the red coleuses in a big pot. That is the origin of The Christmas Coleus.
By mid-September the coleus was almost three feet wide and three feet tall. Of course I posed with it for pictures and immediately became the “The Coleus Queen” on Facebook. In retrospect, Barbara should have posed with me because the beautiful coleus is as much from her TLC as mine.
In early October Barbara and I knew we needed to move the plant inside to avoid an early frost. Barbara had just purchased a new wagon—a blue canvas beauty! Four feet long, two feet wide and one foot high. Perfect for transporting our coleus!
On moving day, we carefully lifted the coleus into the wagon and started walking four blocks from her house to mine.
Part of the plant drooped over the side of the wagon, which was truly precarious.
We had lots of questions and stares as people walked around the wagon for it took up two-thirds of the sidewalk. No one had ever seen a coleus this big!!
Finally, I was thrilled to have the coleus in my apartment where I could experiment with how to care for it in the winter months. We placed it in front of the window in my bedroom.
As soon as Barbara left, I found my “sunshine lamp,” which I knew I needed to provide sufficient light for the coleus. This lamp is rectangular, about one foot high, two feet wide. It produces rays that are like the rays of the sun. I have used it when struggling with seasonal depression in the winter months. It helps me get through those long, dark days and I was sure it could help the precious coleus as well.
I was right about that!
Providing light for the coleus has been a long-running experiment. There is no standard guideline. Perhaps this is more intuitive than any other aspect of caring for the coleus. And of course, the amount of light from the sun is always changing as winter approaches. Thus the time with the sunshine lamp is getting longer.
It soon became clear to me that the dark red coleuses needed much more light than the green ones with the red stripes. In fact, the red ones look somewhat faded and have developed some light green lines along the circumference of the leaves. Thus, I carefully rotate the plant so those faded red leaves get maximum light. It has helped considerably.
As we are nearing Christmas, I have established a routine that is clearly working for it has grown over a foot higher and a foot wider than when I brought it to my apartment. Some of the leaves from the red coleus have exploded in size and thus are 7 inches long and 5 inches wide.
Of course I love to show the coleus to friends and neighbors. They always congratulate me for my “green thumb.”
I insist that the secret of growing plants is more about “the pointer finger” than the “green thumb.” Let me explain. About every four days, I reach my hand into the top of the pot touching the soil with my “pointer” finger. If my finger is dry, I water the plant. If it is moist, I wait a day or two. About once a week, I fertilize the coleus using the standard Miracle-Gro fertilizer for indoor or outdoor plants.
At one point, I observed that the branches of the coleus were very brittle and could break easily. I struggled with how to protect them. Finally I bought wooden stakes about five feet high and carefully pushed them deep into the ground. Next, I took green string and tied the brittle branches to the stakes. This has worked very well and so far. as not one branch has broken off.
Then, I had an idea for a Christmas decoration.
I draped red and green tinsel from stake to stake. Later, I added another stake into the middle and placed a Christmas star on top of it. Perfect!
Now, I awaken each day to the beauty of the Christmas Coleus. Seeing bright rays of the sun gently bathing the plant brings a deep peace. Off in the distance is Lake Michigan with its ever-changing colors. Will the water be turquoise, baby blue, dark blue or gray? Such joy!
I get up, make my coffee and sit in the rocking chair just four feet from the coleus. It is the best meditation spot I have ever had! There was so much joy in gathering the red coleus slips with Barbara, receiving the green plant from Daryce, which has exploded into many beautiful plants, and now we have this glorious Christmas beauty.
Sometimes Barbara comes and we delight in the coleus. We remember that first day when we picked red coleus slips from the garden at St Francis Hospital. Some of our friends say we “stole” those slips but we insist that the hospital would have gladly given them to us. After all, it is a hospital of Saint Francis, the who preached to the birds and danced with the animals! And now my statue of St Francis stands close to the coleus, blessing it and sending it love.
Barbara and I chuckle about the four-block trip from her house to mine when we transported the coleus in her beautiful blue wagon. How we apologized to neighbors for taking up most of the width of the sidewalk. We just shake our heads as we remember their amazement at our little procession.
But most of all, Barbara and I cherish the beauty of creation.
We remember the story of creation in the Bible.
We wondering if that “fig” leaf that Adam used to cover himself was perhaps the original coleus!
A Christmas Coleus!
Care to Read More?
Lucille Sider inspires readers nationwide with Light Shines in the Darkness, her memoir about spiritual resilience in the aftermath of life-shattering trauma. Now, she is publishing a series of columns about the many ways men and women find themselves confronting trauma every day. Here are some of her earlier columns:
- Her first story was The Perfect House.
- Then, All Manner of Things Shall Be Well.
- Taking on cancer ‘this step, each step’
- Knitting Our Lives Together
- Finding Resilience in the Midst of Winter Blues
- Do you have an animal friend in your life? They can help you make even more friends!