Mum’s the Word


There’s an old saying that goes like this: “Mum’s the word”. It means, “SSShhhhh. Keep your mouth shut. Don’t say anything to anyone.” Often the expression is used when something of great import is to be kept secret. “Mum’s the word on this, okay?”

Yesterday I had a hankering to do some gardening. Even though I’m not very good at it, every once in a while I get the urge to get down and dirty in the literal sense. The potted plants in our yard had gotten out of control, especially the three pots of mums I’d gotten as a birthday present at the beginning of the month. More than half the blooms were dead and dried. The new ones looked despoiled next to the crusty old ones. The folks at the garden store we’d just visited had drastically cut back all of their mum plants. They do that so the plant stock has more energy to put into new growth. I looked at my sorry mums and realized that it was time for me to do the same.

I got out the clippers and started snipping away. But each time I clipped off a new bloom, I felt an awful sense of remorse.

“This is so sad,” I said to myself. All these beautiful new blooms choked out by the old ones. What a shame.” Still, I knew that if I didn’t take the whole plant down, I’d be robbing it of the enormous potential it held within its roots. I took a deep breath and kept on snipping.

I finished the first, then the second, and then went on to the third plant. The third was the most difficult because it was my favorite – rich, crimson petals surrounding brilliant yellow centers. Lovely.

As I worked, the blooms fell to the ground and made a pile around my feet. The bright pastels of the fresh blooms mixed with the muted browns of the old ones. It was a strange sight; almost pretty and almost ugly all at the same time.

I clipped the last bud off the third plant and stepped back to examinee my work. What I saw amazed me, and I simply had to chuckle. All three plants were loaded with new buds! They’d been so buried among the crusty old blooms that I hadn’t noticed them. Now they were the most apparent part of the plants. They looked like spring mums ready to burst forth again.

This is the secret that all good gardeners know. Sometimes the old has to be drastically clipped away in order to make way for the new. It can be painful, but the fruits will be amazing.

Life is like that sometimes, isn’t it? Sometimes we’re so buried in the crusty old blooms that we can’t see the new buds beneath the surface. Then we have to keep our mouths shut, get out the clippers and bravely allow our Master Gardener to snip everything away so that the enormous potential for growth lying within our roots can be realized. Then we’ll look like spring mums ready to burst forth again.

Our Lord spoke about this in terms of a grape vine, referring to himself as the True Vine.

I am the true vine, and the Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. (Jn 15:2)

It takes courage to remain still so that the Father can snip away all the dead blooms. Snipping that deeply and being that vulnerable can be pretty scary; we don’t really know what lies beneath. Yet we can be sure that whatever it is will pave the way for new growth. And in that respect, mum’s the word.

Copyright 2011 Marge Fenelon


About Author

Marge Steinhage Fenelon is a wife, mother, award-winning author and journalist, blogger, and popular speaker. She appears weekly on Relevant Radio's "Morning Air Show" and other Catholic radio shows. She blogs regularly for National Catholic Register and at She's author of the best-selling "Our Lady, Undoer of Knots: A Living Novena (Ave Maria Press, 2016) and many other books on Marian devotion and Catholic spirituality.


  1. Marge – such a beautiful message. Thanks so much for this beautiful column and for sharing the gift of your writing with us. It makes me anxious to get out into my garden!

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