This is another plant with which I have had a long history, being another plant I grew at Myddelton House almost 40 years ago. But that is merely the blink of an eye for ‘Emperor of China’ one of the most fascinating and venerable chrysanthemums. Rumoured to have been rediscovered by the late Graham Stuart Thomas, it was certainly mentioned by him in ‘Perennial Garden Plants’ in 1976. He suggests that it is the same plant as ‘Old Cottage PInk’. He describes it as ‘an invaluable, soundly perennial, hardy chrysanthemum, flowering in November.’ He notes that, apart from the lovely flowers, the foliage flushes deep crimson by flowering time. I bought my plant named as something German beginning with ‘n’ but it is clearly ‘Emperor of China’ – and besides, other plants I bought from the same place were wrongly named. It has long been valued for its late flowers and Thomas notes that it was depicted in ‘The English Flower Garden’ by William Robinson. Gertrude Jekyll was also a fan, although she knew it as ‘Cottage PInk’. In 1888 she wrote ‘There can be no doubt about the merit of this capital flower as a truly hardy out-door chrysanthemum. – After the first frosts the leaves acquire a brilliant colouring, being edged, and splashed, and marbled with a strong crimson that adds much to the beauty of the plant. No rain hurts the flowers, whose petals on first opening are quilled, but afterwards become broad and flat.’ She states that ‘Cottage Pink’ is hardier than the Emperor but I think the two are synonymous.
Apparently this plant was mentioned by Confucius in 500BC and it was introduced to Japan in AD 386. It does look like the chrysanthemums we are familiar with in traditional Chinese prints.
Although the late flowering of this plant does extend the season of flowers in the garden it is so late that it barely makes it before the rigours of winter. It is also a tall plant, the stems reaching a metre or more before they think about blooming, by then the stems snaking among other plants. The flowers are held in rather tight clusters that do not really show off the flowers well, though fine for picking. The deep pink buds open to soft pink flowers. It obviously looks good with other late flowers such as asters, and is best in a sheltered place. I think I should pinch out the growing tips midsummer to make it branch better. For this year it has had to be placed behind a dwarf buddleia which sort of works, but all plantings in the garden are a bit basic as yet. Although it is hardy, like most chrysanthemums it will benefit from lifting in late autumn and protecting in a cold greenhouse if only to help prevent slugs eating the new shoots and to allow you to divide the clumps which will get woody and lose vigour over time.
If the flowers fully open I will update this post.