Chrysanthemums mean autumn

Garden chrysanthemums are remarkable plants. They have a long history in cultivation, can be grown in a multitude of forms and are an essential part of autumn. While they have been debased by supermarket bunches – they can be manipulated to bloom all year and sold at rock bottom prices as cut flowers – they deserve to be taken seriously.

Of course, some growers do take them very seriously and devote their lives to producing perfect blooms, which usually means growing them, or at lest blooming them, in greenhouses to protect the late flowers from wet. I have dabbled with this in the past and may again but it requires total dedication – something I cannot give at present. When I was first embarking on my working life I worked at a garden centre that, unusually, had old Dutch light greenhouses and we grew our own chrysanths as cut flowers for autumn and for Christmas. Thousands of rooted cuttings were planted in summer, after all the bedding was grown and sold, and then cared for, keeping pests at bay and stopping and disbudding the plants so we had thousands of perfect blooms for sale at Christmas. Apart from the wonderful smell of the plants, the thing I remember most is lighting the nicotine shreds to kill the aphids and leaf miner. We had to put piles of paper soaked in nicotine along the length of the greenhouses and then, starting at the end furthest from the door, light the heaps, stepping on them so they smoulder and didn’t burn. And you didn’t go back to relight one that went out!

Incidentally I am still connected to the garden centre and I write weekly for them – and you can read the Nags Hall blog here.

More my style at the moment are the hardy garden chrysanthemums. These can be left in the garden all year but they are possibly better lifted in autumn and protected in a cold greenhouse over winter. Apart from protection from frost, it allows you to divide the woody plants, maintaining vigour, or to take cuttings, which allows you to increase stock quickly. Young plants are always more vigorous. Border chrysanths can flowers from August to early December, with most flowering in September and October.

I bought a few at the end of last year, mainly old friends that I used to grow many years ago. Being truthful, I can’t say that they are necessarily better than the kinds you buy in full flower for the price of a coffee and then throw out. But I like the connection with the past. So I once again have the dainty ‘Mei Kyo’ in pink and the bronze ‘Picasso’. What I thought was ‘Purleigh White’ (and what I ordered) has turned out to be (I think) ‘Nantyderry Sunshine’, which is OK. The first to bloom is one I have had several years and have forgotten the name as I write. A few are still yet to bloom, including the yellow ‘Margery Fish’ which I will cherish just for its link to that great gardener.

‘Mei Kyo’ just starting to bloom

I have mentioned ‘Elaine’s Hardy White’ before but I now think that it is the right plant for the name and it is a great thing, full of flowers and excellent for cutting. I took cuttings of my plant in spring and had several plants to dot about. Unfortunately one was planted next to ‘Breitner’s Supreme’ which is a dazzling, snow white and makes poor Elaine look like muddy slush.

‘Elaine’s Hardy White’
Bright ‘Breitner’s Supreme’

Not every flower in the garden is a chrysanthemum though. I am delighted that one of the bearded iris has decided to produce a flower stem. Many years ago I used to grow a lot of remontant iris and there had to be some among those that I brought with me, even though all the names were lost. This solitary stem is very encouraging and a nice surprise.

3 Comments on “Chrysanthemums mean autumn”

  1. Paddy Tobin
    October 20, 2021 at 9:31 am #

    I quote, “the faint smell of chrysanthemums like the smell of a sick ghost…”

    • thebikinggardener
      October 20, 2021 at 12:03 pm #

      Who is that a quote from? I quite like the smell of chrysanths but only in autumn.

      • Paddy Tobin
        October 20, 2021 at 1:37 pm #

        Hagiwara Sakutar√≥ in ‘Cock’

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