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October 22, 2012

Fancy Mums - Making A Comeback after 2000 Year Hiatus





MY EXHIBITION MUMS ARE BEGINNING TO BLOOM. IN ANOTHER MONTH, THEY WILL PEAK. Clockwise from top: Myss Goldie, John Lowry, Heather James, Indian Summer, and Fort Smith.
We are just starting the season for Chrysanthemum shows, and although you may poo poo those dense, potted meaningless mums growing in fiber pots and bushel baskets at the farm stand or associate mums as funeral flowers or cheap, filler flowers best left for supermarket purchases, think again - the mum is making a comeback, and it's starting at your local botanical garden.  The chrysanthemum has a long, long, long - even ancient history with human culture - they have been cultivated and careful displayed with perfection for more than 2000 years. They are the lost art pieces, or objet d'art and have captivated humans, helping them celebrate the seasonal shift into autumn since, well, since before Christ.  Even though I think the mum needs to be rediscovered by more people, I agree that they also need a makeover - a good agent and perhaps a major re branding.

THE PALETTE OF AUTUMN IS SURPRISINGLY FLEXIBLE. AND EVEN THOUGH ONE MIGHT BELIEVE THAT BRONZE, PINK, FLESH TONES AND COPPER COULD NEVER WORK  WELL TOGETHER, I SAY THAT THEY BLEND PERFECTLY.
If you are looking into growing chrysanthemums, they are not that easy to find. These exhibition types must be grown from cuttings, and there are only a couple of sources on-line. I get mine from Kings Mums, but there are other places which will require some in depth Google searching to find. These are not the same mums as those found at potted plants, or at farm stands, for these are not completely hardy ( not that most farm stand mums are hardy either, even though they are sold as 'hardy mums'. Here in New England, few mums are truly hardy through a hard winter. Exhibition mums are easy to grow, and even to winter over, they just need to be lifted in the late autumn, and protected a bit more - placed in a box in a cool shed, or cellar. These 'stools' are often stored under benches in a cool greenhouse in my case, and they send out new growth in the spring, which make good cutting material. That said, it is easier to by new rooted cuttings in the spring from on-line retailers since they only cost a couple of dollars per cutting. This is by far the best way to grow these sort of mums.

A FORMAL REFLEX  'JOHN LOWRY BEGINNING TO OPEN


Humans have been cultivating the Chrysanthemum since 15th Century B.C. Hello? I said B.C. "Are you kidding me?  Asian orchids and mums are some of the first ornamental plants grown by mankind. They are THAT old. Mums are our Yoda of modern horticulture. In China they reigned as one of if not the first plant man ever cultivated for royalty- heck, they didn't even make it to Japan until the 8th Century A.D. The Chrysanthemum predates modern religion , heck, it predates ancient religion!

These are living relics, Now treated more like special art installations than seasonal plants with provenance. They have become the Chihuly of flower display that botanic gardens use to draw in viewers, along with model trains, fairie gardens, griftshops full of silk sunflowers and amaryllis bulbs, and home made soap. Crowds don't come for the mums - they come for the 'wow' factor. The amazing symmetry, the Asian theme which surrounds them ( the tea houses, the Japanese maple displays, the bonsai all add the the experience). 


I'm OK with that, for how else might we educate the viewing audience to appreciate these kings of the mum world. After all, who else could ever grow them? The days of huge private estates with housewives home directing the gardening staff to manage the floral displays properly are gone. Gone the seasonal cycles on large, private estates - you know, like those seen in feature films such as Sabrina, Downton Abby, and the Vanderbilt's. Mum's grown properly require daily care from spring until autumn, and then the must be set into displays. These are display crops from another era, and unless you are Martha Stewart sipping organic greens and carrot juice on you private farm/estate in Bedford, NY, who else could grow them privately, or who else would honestly even care to?



'FORT SMITH', A LARGE GOLDEN YELLO SHOW FLOWER JUST BEGINNING TO OPEN IN THE GREENHOUSE.
With mums, it's really about respect. Toss a bunch in a funeral display, and they seem dull. Tie a bunch together in a celophane tie, and they look even cheaper. But carefully disbud and raise a single blossom, and then set it on a stage, and it becomes something else. It's all about respect, and no one know respect better than the Japanese. Gesture, pose, positioning, color - isolation and control transforms an ordinary object into art. 




CHECK OUT THIS AMAZING VIDEO PRODUCED BY LONGWOOD GARDENS, DOCUMENTING HOW THEY CREATED A TRAINED CHRYSANTHEMUM FOR LAST YEARS CHRYSANTHEMUM SHOW. IT IS INCREDIBLE.


In Taiwan, China, Japan and Korea, Chrysanthemum Exhibitions are still very popular, but these cultures have a deep connection with the plant, something Americans and Europeans never will have.

IN JAPAN, THE CHRYSANTHEMUM CONTINUES TO ATTRACT GROWERS AND EXHIBITORS WHO APPRECIATE ITS MANY FORMS AND CHARACTERISTICS



To start with - dismiss any thoughts about those tight, dense mounds drenched in growth retardants and chemicals to form mounds which look more like sheered sheep than the towering 6 foot specimens treasures for centuries. Mums are easy to grow, fun to train and come into flower within one growing season, so there should be no reason why we could not grow these icons of autumn. Except one thing - you would need a massive estate range of glass houses, and a staff from Japan or China who could tend to their exacting needs every that during the summer. I almost forgot about that part.

Which is why today, a sight such as that going on right now at the Phipps in Pittsburgh, the New York Botanic Garden or at Longwood Gardens , or next month at the Smith College, the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum in Boston is so important - they are very special events. And who knows how long these will ever continue.
ALONG THE BACK BENCH OF MY GREENHOUSE, THE SHOW MUMS ARE TALLER THAN I AM, WITH MANY BUDS STARTING TO OPEN.

6 comments :

  1. I hope to get to Smith next month!

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  2. The lilac 'John Lowry' is gorgeous and the photography is good too. These mums should improve their image with its negative connotations as solemn flowers.

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  3. hopflower10:46 AM

    I am fond of spider mums. One does not see them often. Thank you for the lovely specimen pictures.

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  4. At Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh -you blogged about it last week - there were once large displays of beautifully trained Chrysanthemums during their fall flower show. Sadly, they have not continued this tradition since the 1970's, when budgets began to be cut and the garden went into a period of decline. Hopefully your beautiful examples will spark a new interest in this wonderful aspect of horticulture.

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  5. Anonymous10:38 PM

    I just had the privilege of attending an early showing of Smith's Chrysanthemum show. They did a really wonderful job this year. They feature many of the exhibition forms you prefer. It is worth making the trip for sure.

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