Annual celebration of the chrysanthemum
Fall chrysanthemums now appear in all kinds of colors, including purple and red. You see them wherever you go. It seems like you can’t get away from them. The chrysanthemum has truly become the fall favorite for garden display.
The chrysanthemum appeared in the early 19th century in England as an exotic plant from China. By that time, the British had long been traveling to China for many reasons, including collecting plants for English gardens.
The chrysanthemum eventually made its way to American gardens. Boston nurseryman Charles Mason Hovey wrote in 1846 that “few plants afford more gratification than a good collection of chrysanthemums.”
Nurseryman Thomas Meehan said in his magazine, Gardener’s Monthly, in 1863 that chrysanthemums were indispensable for autumn decoration of the flower garden.
The garden scene is not much different today.
Later in the 19th century, seed and nursery catalogs featured collections of this plant for the gardener, thus it became a mainstay of the American garden. The fascination this plant creates has been around for a long time.
The flower comes in various shapes and sizes, from small pompons as little as a dime to huge spider-shaped varieties. Some look like daisies.
In cold climates, like the Northeast, mums, as they are called, are treated as annuals unless you start to grow them outdoors in the spring as perennials. If you do, trim them regularly to avoid leggy growth. What usually happens, however, is that you make a trip to the garden center each autumn to purchase mums to replace the summer annuals that can’t take the cooler nights of the fall.
Northampton’s Smith College opens its two week annual Chrysanthemum Show on Saturday, Nov. 6. Two weeks long, this show is filled with events built around the fall chrysanthemum theme.
The starting point for the show is the collection of chrysanthemums in the Lyman Plant House. Masses of flowers cover one wall as you enter. The plants grow on wire mesh, climbing and bursting with their fall colors. The greenhouse is well worth seeing, but it makes up only one part of the show.
Garden designer W. Gary Smith will open the show on Friday, Nov. 5, with a lecture titled “From Art to Landscape: Unleashing Creativity in Garden Design.” The show includes an exhibit of his paintings and drawings in the nearby Church Exhibition Gallery.
In the greenhouse you will find displays of potted chrysanthemums in various sizes and colors – some on a single 3-foot stem, some the result of hybrid work by volunteer Smith College students and some new varieties. You see the best varieties that won a student award.
Other events for the show include music and poetry reading. Michael Marcotrigiano, director of the botanic garden, will present a closing lecture on Friday, Nov. 19, “Plants as Design Elements.”
It is the chrysanthemum, however, that lies at the center of this two-week show. The greenhouse displays the blooms of the chrysanthemum with such artfulness that it is easy to see the connection between art and this plant. There are chrysanthemums everywhere.
Check out more details about the Smith College Chrysanthemum Show at www.smith.edu/garden/home.html.
Thomas Mickey is a master gardener from Quincy and a professor at Bridgewater State College. You may reach him at www.americangardening.net.