If all (or most) of what you know about chrysanthemums is limited to the round bushes of small burgundy, rust, white or yellow round flowers that are found at the local big box stores, have we got a surprise or two for you!
On Sunday, a glorious fall day on Delmarva, the Gardening Grannies headed up to Kennett Square to visit one of the premiere Chrysanthemum Festivals in the United States at Longwood Gardens. An added benefit to the trip was the blazing fall foliage colors of both Longwood and the drive to get there. The glorious reds, yellows and bronzes lining the highways and scattered throughout the gardens added much to the overall experience.
The mum exhibit itself is located inside the huge main conservatory and is absolute perfection. As with thousands of other visitors, the Grannies guarantee your jaw will drop in amazement at the gigantic white "One Plant, One Thousand Blooms". Disbelief registered on the faces of visitors as they leaned down to verify for themselves that it was truly just "One Plant". After they got control of their amazement, the Grannies set about getting a few details about just what goes into such gigantic perfection. Some points gleaned from their queries included top quality potting soil, consistent moisture and fertilizer and, particularly, meticulous "pinching" (more about that later). The mind-boggling part is that it takes seventeen months of training to arrive at one perfect plant. The one question that the Grannies didn't get answered was how many plants do the Longwood gardeners start to ensure that unexpected mortality doesn't wipe them out at some point over those seventeen months. If any of you are able to get that answer, please write back and share it with the rest of us.
About the "pinching" mentioned above, all of the docents/gardeners told the Grannies that doing it properly is the key to perfection. Simply put, pinching means cutting or pinching to remove the lead growth end of a branch or stem. Whenever a stem is pinched back this way, two stems form and grow from that "injury". This practice results in a shorter bushier plant, controlling both its size and shape. It served as an excellent reminder to get out the pruners and cut back 1/3 of our own mums in late June and again in mid-July to get a more blooms and bushier plants that don't lop over onto their neighbors during bloom time.
Most of the mums were pruned to one tall stem topped by a single huge blossom, planted close together to form a mass. The displays included waist high purple mums (Hagoromo), shorter yellow thistle mums and low growing yellow pompom mums ("Kermit"). There were gigantic pompoms and tiny ones. Spider mums, spoon-billed mums, anemone mums plus mums trained into small trees, arches and others flowing down walls. Some boasted strong color contrasts while others were more muted with strong beautiful colors.
As if that wasn't enough, Ikebana International, Philadelphia Chapter #71, had a fantastic display of arrangements in the lecture hall of the grand conservatory and bonsai were on display in the fountain room.
The 30th Annual Chrysanthemum Festival continues through 20 November. You really have to see it to believe it! The Gardening Grannies are a group of avid and Master Gardeners who live, love and garden on the Delmarva Peninsula. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.