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September 14, 2004 > Chrysanthemums


In Autumn, most flowering plants get ready for their winter snooze. But a garden seems lonesome to me without color sparkles. So, I spice it up with several pots of blooming chrysanthemums. They live up my suburban entry walkway and make my summer farewell happy.

As a note, someone scolded me today, saying garden writers are supposed to be supremely successful in whatever they plop in the ground. This reminds me of a story. While I've been gardening for 45 years, I also have a good medical background. A person once asked why I didn't write about medicine, it being more lucrative. That was a good question. After some thought, I replied that I liked working with gardening authorities much better than I liked working with medical honchos. I wasn't sure why. About that time I was interviewing a highly esteemed agricultural consultant, so I asked him the difference between Medical vs. Horticultural personalities. "Garden people know that 99 percent of what they put in the ground is going to die, regardless of what we do," the consultant replied. "So we are all humble."

My daughter says I don't stick to the subject. If I write about chrysanthemums, I should tell people how to grow them. Well, there are about 100 different kinds. Besides my fall-flowering mums, there's ox-eye daisy, Nippon daisy, marguerites, Shasta daisy and feverfew. Feverfew's not much to look at, but it actually thrives in the garden corner where my dogs pee, so is a wonderful chrysanthemum indeed. What you have to do with a chrysanthemum is give it a sunny spot, self-respecting soil, fairly regular water, and good drainage. Good drainage means it doesn't sit in a swamp, but likes life a tad on the dryish side. Fertilize occasionally.

Fall-flowering mums were, long ago, a wild daisy-like plant found in China. They spent 2,500 years being perfected in Chinese gardens, and became the national flower of Japan before crossing the ocean to England and then America. Now there's a National Chrysanthemum Society which has marvelous shows every year. Flowers can be 4 inches across, or little pompoms, so named because they looked like the pompoms on the hats of French sailors. The name Chrysanthemum comes from the Greek words "chrysos," meaning "gold," and "anthos" meaning "flower." Garlands made from mums were supposed to protect against demons. Drinking dew collected from chrysanthemum flowers was supposed to make one live longer. I have no idea who got the job of collecting enough dew to drink, but it probably wasn't the high man on the totem pole.

Anyhow, if you really get into chrysanthemums, you can make them into mamebonsai or furuki bonsai, which means you can spend hundreds of patient hours cultivating them in containers not more than 4-inches across, creating all sorts of splendid shapes. For myself, there are yellow, orange, red, pinkish, striped, gold, big, little, and pompom available at my friendly neighborhood store for about $3.95. Get ones with lots of buds ready to open. That way your chrysanthemums sparkle a longer time outdoors, or on a sunny windowsill.

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