Like dahlias, chrysanthemums are only a relatively recent interest of mine in the cut flower world. I used to think chrysanthemums were just for pipe smoking gents who grew flowers on their allotments and entered them into annual competitions. I also had this mistaken idea that chrysanths were difficult to grow. I think my early dislike of them was due to: (1) The ubiquitous appearance of them in supermarkets and garage forecourts with some even dyed the most unnatural colours and (2) Yes, they have a fantastic vase life but sometimes they just seemed to stiffly ‘sit there’ in a vase forever. I preferred something a bit more ‘dynamic’ in the vase, both in terms of a flower’s decay process and how it moves and fills a space. But now, like dahlia varieties, I realise there is such a choice of different chrysanthemums they can potentially suit any taste. I have consequently reassessed chrysanthemums and they are yet again on my annual inventory for growing as a late summer flower. Although, I must confess, the single chrysanths are still not my favourite.
My true admiration of chrysanthemums really began when I was working in Japan some years ago. Images of the flower are everywhere in Japanese culture and they even celebrate a ‘Chrysanthemum Day’ on 9th day of 9th month each year. Japan is one of the most stimulating countries I have spent time in. They have such an inherent respect and understanding of seasonality that is much to be admired. Visiting shrines, temples, galleries, seeing kimonos, screens, ceramics and paintings, the chrysanthemum appears repeatedly, along with images of maples, bamboos, peonies, cherry blossom and morning glory. These are usually depicted in heavily stylised forms (known as 'mons' or emblems) as well as in more natural representation. I even began to appreciate the beauty of the leaf of the chrysanthemum which I hadn’t even looked at in any detail before. Chrysanthemums are even edible and commonly used in Japan and China in teas.
Three stylised chrysanthemum mons at the top of the gate and on a light fitting at the Meiji Shinto shrine in Tokyo.
On a vintage obi (kimono sash) from Tokyo.
Anyone for a cuppa?
I grow an assortment of outdoor chrysanthemums in the cutting garden to sell. These are just a few examples, showing their beautiful leaf form, some in tight bud and some in full bloom.
|The stunning, tight, deep, dark bud of 'John Riley'.|
|These dark chrysanths look lovely in Raku Ware. I found these on a trip to the ceramics heaven of Mashiko, north east of Tokyo.|
Which one's my favourite? Well, actually, none of the above, my heart belongs to another... the 'Fantasy Chrysanthemum'. Like the name suggests, they are the most spectacular and beautiful fantasy of a flower, like a cascading firework. I do not grow these to sell, I grow them for pure unashamed, hedonistic indulgence and I wouldn't want a November without them. They have a temporary home in my back room from the beginning of October where there is good light and they are nice and snug. They are only at bud stage at the moment but I promise I will share some pics when they are in full bloom!
As a final note, here are some tips from a 1950s flower arranging book on how to, "give your table a Midas touch" using chrysanthemums.