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June 24, 2006

Planting with Autumn in Mind


The Lost Art of Exhibition Chrysanthemums

June may be the time of peak early summer bloom for many, but just as any other month of the year, there are steps to be taken, to assure future displays. Planning ahead requires ordering catalogs as well as plants, since many plants which are interesting are only available to ship on very specific dates throughout the year. So it is with Chrysanthemus.


I am one who dispises the bushel basket mums one sees at garden centers and home stores starting in September, opting instead for more interesting and unusual varieties. Growing Chrysanthemums is just one of those skills and passions which has fallen out of favor in the past seventy years or so, but there was a time when spectacular fall displays where arranged around the specific culture of the Chrysanthemum. The artistic culture of raising mums for show, competition or for displays, as gone the way of the private estate greenhouses, where at one time, the gardening staff for families such as the Vanderbuit's and others, prided themselves with grand and spectacular displays of carefully trained cascading mums, with thier tumbling branches which were fussed over for monthes throughout the summer, pinched and tied to forms so that they could reach enormous lengths.

Other mums, all classified to specific standards, are often trained to single stems, and were once popular in the florist trade, like the incurve standards, which we know as tacky funeral flowers or football mums, here in the U.S., and then there are the spider mums, as well as recurves and poms, spray types, and fancy brush novelties, all were pain-stakingly disbudded to sinle stams, then when fall arrived, moved into the conservatory for display. Unless one is as obsessive as I am, or able to aford a full time staff of gardeners, I can see why the art of Chrysanthemum growing has fallen away from popular culture. But isn't is ashame?

In an effort to explore the lost art of fine chrysanthemums culture, I sought out these old varieties and have been practicing growing them. Only a few people bother with any of the fancy mums, even the Chrysanthemum Society seems to be weak in membership as well as exhibitions and information. Still, I encourage you to reject the bushel basket mums, sprayed with growth retardent all summer, and heavily fertilized to produce monsterous mounds of meaningless conformity. Hardy mums or what we call those genetic monsters available in the fall are just so clone-like, that if you want to look like everyone else on the block, with your fall display consisting of a bale of hay, some pumpkins, a few pots of mums and a gourd or two, then this blog certainly is not for you.


In asia, just the opposite happens. There, especially in Japan, the Chrysanthemum is held in the highest of regards. Check out my friend Masashi's website, showing jsut how beautiful the fall festivals of Chrysanthemums are in Japan.


Anyway, June is the time to star any show or exhibition mums, available , really, at only one retailer, Kings Mums, and only delivered in the mail until the end of June, when in the northern hemisphere, in the U.S., they must be planted. There are many types to choose from, Large Exhibition types like Incurves and recurves, as well as Spider's, all which must be carefully disbudded to a single stem, and then flowers as large as dinner plates will happen near the end of October. Plant the cuttings, as they arrive, I keep most in the greenhouse until July, then set the containers out into the garden, and lift them just before frost, since here in New England, they bloom later, and the cold weather will kill them. ONce in the greenhouse, they provide spectacular displays until Thanksgiving, in late November. THis year, as in others, I am growing many standard forms, as well as some Japanese varieties such as the mi8niature bonsai tyles, and the incredible cascade forms, which have weaker stems that are trained to grow horizontal, tieing each stem to bamboo canes, extended horozontally, then untied near bloom and hung in hanging baskets.

Help invigorate the lost art of growing real Chrysanthemums, next year, order cuttings in May and amaze your neighbors with mums like they've never seen.

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