November 10, 2012

Smith College Chrysanthemum Show

Japanese Spider mums and recurved formals, each trained in the classic Japanese form - disbudded to a single bloom received
much attention at the annual Fall Chrysanthemum Show at Smith College.

 The annual Fall Chrysanthemum Show at the Botanic Garden of Smith College traditionally opens on the first Saturday in November in the 100 year old Lyman Plant house conservatory, set in on the iconic campus designed by the firm of Frederic Law Olmsted. Smith College, located in Northampton, MA hosts two major floral events annually, the Spring Bulb Show in March and this, the Autumn Chrysanthemum show. Horticulture students display some chrysanthemum varieties which they must breed for a class on hybridizing, as many exhibition mums are on display, in much the same way nineteenth century conservatories in America might have displayed mums, showing traditional Japanese and Chinese training methods.

The whole show is very charming,  of course the vintage conservatory, the quaint decorations, the naive thematic elements ( this show had a butterfly theme with home made sculptures of people in kimono's catching butterflies with nets), and the collection itself - 12,000 square feet containing 1500 taxa, a collection of plants which includes succulents ferns, tropicals, subtropicals, and epiphytes - a woman at the information desk was quite enthusiastic about a 'baby pineapple' which she insisted made a point of visiting and mentioning.

Visitors of all ages enjoyed the fragrance and color on this cold, November day. There is nothing like a greenhouse full of flowers when it is cold outside.

The Lyman Conservatory viewed from the upper campus at Smith college.

Joe and Jess discuss how they might have trained the cascade style mums. They require constant care, and are not easy grow to perfection. These were trained onto chicken wire, which any Japanese gardner would turn their nose up at, but it is something we may try next year as the traditional method is difficult requiring single canes of bamboo. Our guess is that these were trained onto a flat, horizontal or angled plane of wire, tied to it, and then placed in position once the buds were forming.

November 6, 2012

An updated look

Even in November, a walk around the garden, and greenhouse, along with a stop at the pheasantry for some feathers, results in an unusual yet totally authentic autumnal arrangement. Gotta love the White Callicarpa berries and the golden orbs from a rare, yellow Nandinia. Nerine and Clematis 'Jingle Bells' add charm.

A mixed bouquet of hybrid Nerine sarniensis picked in the greenhouse today.

First of all - yes, I am significantly redesigning my blog. This is part of a more elaborate transition, as I reach 1 million page hits next month, I felt it was time to grow up, and create a blog design which is more interactive, more simple, more   friendly and yes, something we can grow with. This is just phase one of many changes you will see over the next month as I tweak the design. Please bear with me with odd images, and odd-centered objects - I need to do this on my own time late at night, and I fear it will take some time. Please, do let me know what you think about the design.

Again, it is Nerine season in the greenhouse. Every year I swear that I am going to give them all away so that I can clear off the benches to make room for something new, but then, they bloom, and I can't even imagine what October or November would be like without their coral, pink, scarlet and white blooms. Also,  I'm one of those rare fellows who loves November. In fact, I love winter. Odd, yes - for a gardener, but there is something about crisp, cold weather and snow that allows me to focus on plants. Maybe it's because summer offers too many distractions. regardless, I admit that I like those transitional seasons. Spring and Autumn - it may just be a simple case of getting bored. Just when I begin to yawn with boredom, everything changes again.

Puppy Cam - Big Puppy, Tiny Runt Puppy. Their eyes are not open yet.

November 4, 2012


'River City' is a Recurve with an unusual color. A light champagne salmon.

'Coral Charm', a new coral or salmon colored variety. I disbudded this plant to achieve this larger flower, but typically this is grown as sprays. with many smaller flowers in a cluster.

Once the iconic blossom of autumn in Asia, the chrysanthemum moved from being a most auspicious flower to one of dull funereal status in the west. Today, it is being rediscovered by a new generation. I made this arrangement inspired by those loosely constructed by the stylish Brooklyn, NY firm of Saipua. It incorporates branches, autumnal leaves and other random clippings found around the garden today.

'John Lowry' A Reflexing Bloom in the style preferred in England. Bred by Harry Lawson in the U.K., This variety has one of the brightest colors in the greenhouse right now.

'Fort Smith', an Irregular Incurve, highly esteemed for exhibition potential, these are the giants of the Chrysanthemum world. These must be disbudded in order to achieve this size.

In the greenhouse, the exhibition mums are reaching peak bloom. Some of these plants are 6 feet tall.
The Chrysanthemum is experiencing a comeback.

Only kidding. Well, If I keep saying that maybe it will.  I will admit that the 5th most popular page on this blog remains exhibition chrysanthemums, so there must be SOME interest! I've have over 10,000 hits on those pages.

This bronze beauty is an exhibition form  known as 'regular incurve', a class , 'Heather James', is a new variety.
Blooms in this class are formally incurved with the ideal bloom forming a complete ball.

Sadly, aside from funeral mums, those florist mums, the cheapest of cut flowers, and those dreaded 'hardy mums' available in the fall, and yes, even those 'gift' mums wrapped in foil - the era of exhibition chrysanthemum is over. Growing exhibition mums is fun, and it only takes one season, but as they bloom later than the earliest frost, one needs a greenhouse or conservatory - and time. Did I mention time? I'll be honest, my mums look pretty crappy this year. I ran out of free time. I was lucky to even get them into the greenhouse on time before the froze. You can see how the foliage is a little damaged too from fungus.

Exhibition mums need a little care each week during the summer, and in normal years, they are quite growable. Cuttings arrive in May, I pot them up and take a second set of cuttings, pots are set out into the garden, and aside from some fertilizer each week, daily watering and  weekly pinching and some disbudding and staking as they grow, they are relatively easy. Watering is therapy after work in the summer when sometimes, if I get home in time, standing in the setting sun with a hose is exactly the decompression time that I need. 

In American, these are sometimes referred to as Irregular Incurve. In the USA we call them Football mums,' but in Japan, they are carefully trained and respected. This cultivar is 'Kokka Bunmi'. It is a very typical Japanese style flower with a long skirt of trailing florets dangling below it.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you also know that I am a sucker for exploring old fashioned horticultural techniques. Seventeenth Century, Eighteenth Century and Nineteenth Century growing techniques is fun for plant geeks like me who enjoy to exploring early horticultural methods, but sometimes I need to remind myself that such tasks were typically executed by large gardening staffs on private estates, and not by a single person with a full time job and a two hour commute. I found that the mums this year took a little too much time, considering that I also explored Sweet Pea culture and annual poppies at the same time.

Some mums have been bred to have very tiny blossoms, such as this bonsai-form known as 'Koto No Kaori'
Here is the same variety as seen at the New York Botanical Garden last year

I need to keep this post short, since I am still hand feeding one puppy, and she is crying. Plus, this week at work has been a bit of a Hell week, which has had me getting up in the dark in the morning, and returning near midnight - I've had little time for anything, it seems. Even finding time to eat has been difficult, let alone laundry, hurricanes and bill paying.

For more information about Chrysanthemums, check out the website for the National Chrysanthemum Society. If you want to try growing exhibition mums next year, order your cuttings from Kings Mums.