Chrysanthemums are an iconic autumn flower. You can see potted mums for sale everywhere including the supermarkets where ranks of mums in shades of lemon, tangerine and plum cluster around the entrances. A friend reminded me of a quote from Maggie Smith in the 1969 movie, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which I never saw. A student had given Miss Brodie a bouquet(?) of chrysanthemums and her response was, “Chrysanthemums. Such a serviceable flower.”
Miss Brodie did not seem impressed, but at the very least chrysanthemums are indeed serviceable, providing bright welcomes on porches, cheering at football games with their giant blossoms on coats, a golden or ruby glow in candlelight in dinner table bouquets.
In 1972 Miss Smith starred in Travels With My Aunt in which she played another character who had strong opinions about flowers. While strolling in the garden of her dahlia loving nephew, Henry, she sniffed and with disdainful look said, “Dahlias are so vulgar.”
Happily by 2011 Miss Smith’s characters may not have been any less waspish, but she seemed at least to have gentler feelings about bright flowers when she starred in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a movie that glowed with the warm light of marigolds. I don’t recall that she made any comments about the marigolds at all.
All three of these plants, chrysanthemums, dahlias and deep golden marigolds can bring color and drama to the autumnal garden. While potted mums are on sale everywhere at this time of the year, there are many chrysanthemum flower forms that bring special interest to the garden in addition to their colors. There are neat little pom poms, others with each floret (petal) ending in a spoon, or tubular florets called quills or incurved blossoms that will remind you of a Japanese brocade. There are 14 unusual varieties which will probably have to turn to online nurseries such as King’s Mums, or Garden Harvest Supply to see what unusual perennial varieties are available.
It is too late to order any of these fancy mums now, but you can get an idea of what they look like at the Smith College Chrysanthemum Show that includes the stunning chrysanthemum cascades and will run from November 5-20.
Recently I have been writing about Eric Greene’s dahlias which are so hardy and glamorous. Many of his dahlias originally came from Swan Island Dahlias. Like mums, dahlias can be organized by size with the largest measuring more than 10 inches or more, down to less than 4 inches across. They are also organized by type from collarette which is usually a single form, to waterlily form to petite pom-poms.
Dahlias can add rich and fiery blooms to the autumnal garden, but they have tender personalities as well. Those are the colors I always end up planting even though I am an admirer of scarlets and royal purples in the catalogs.
Recently I attended the stupa dedication at Lilian Jackman’s Wilder Hill Gardens. There I admired her tall, large flowered golden marigolds reminiscent of the marigolds The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Marigolds will bloom into the fall and will also have a place in the autumnal garden. Marigolds are so easy to grow that they are a perfect flower for a child to grow. How happy and proud children are when their tiny seed grows into something so big and golden.
There is no problem in finding marigold seed from American Meadow, Park’s or Burpee Seeds.
Zinnias are another tough annual that will bloom long into the fall in golden shades like the marigold, or in a riot of hot or pastel shades. They also come in a range of flower forms from a neat single to shaggy cactus-flowers and dahlia-type flowers. I have made a promise to myself to always have zinnias in my garden.
All of these, mums, dahlias, marigolds and zinnias, are brilliant in the garden and make great cut flowers as well.
Without thinking too much about it I seem to have a number of asters in my new garden. I brought two clumps of the bright pink Alma Potschke with me from Heath as well as the low growing Wood’s Blue, which is a strong grower and makes a good ground cover even when it is not in bloom.
I added a white aster which has fine white flowers and was a bit disappointing. I also planted two pots of a purple aster which are just coming into bloom.
And then there is the much watched weed in my hell strip. For most of the summer I dubiously watched it grow. I wasn’t sure enough it was a weed and so did not rip it out. My procrastination has paid off because it is now producing very sweet small purple flowers, making more of a show that my new white aster. All the asters attract lots of pollinators.
Before I close I must confess to a lack of organization and record-keeping. The mystery groundcover that I mentioned last week revealed its name once planted where it was no longer crowed and got more sun. A small blossom surprised me. It is an osteospurmum which I planted in the spring, inspired by the hardiness and dramatic beauty of the osteospurmums on the Bridge of Flowers. Obviously osteospurmums are another annual that will bloom into the fall.
Between the Rows September 17, 2016