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Smith College Chrysanthemums

Sometimes a chrysanthemum is just a mum, but sometimes a chrysanthemum is Art. Artistically grown chrysanthemums will be on display during Smith College’s annual Fall Chrysanthemum Show which will run November 5-20 in the Lyman Plant House. A $2 donation is suggested. On display will be the stunning chrysanthemum cascades and other skillfully pruned and supported chrysanthemums, some in pillars, and some trained to a single stem with a giant bloom.

Like the spring Bulb Show the Chrysanthemum Show depends on the knowledge of greenhouse staff and students to bring the plants into bloom just in time for opening day by carefully controlling light and temperature. The Japanese style cascades, rarely seen in the U.S., require the patient pinching and arranging of plant shoots through a chicken wire frame to create this stunning effect. The Chrysanthemum Show is a glorious last hurrah to the end of the blooming season.

This year the show will actually begin on Friday, November 4 with A Garden Writer’s Journey, a talk by Paula Dietz, Smith alum, co-founder of the Friends of the Smith Botanic Garden, and author of “On Gardens: Selected Essays.” The talk will be held in the Campus Center Carroll Room at 7:30 p.m. and will be followed by a reception where Dietz will sign her book. The Lyman Plant House will also be illuminated for a preview of the show for attendees.

In “On Gardens” Paula Dietz writes of her experiences over decades in all manner of gardens around the world from the U.S. to the serene gardens of Japan, evoking the sense of the culture and personalities that create gardens, and the way they are used. She uses her knowledge of history, art and literature to bring those gardens and gardeners to life for the reader. I was particularly delighted by the section on parks and public spaces, seeing some of the landscapes that are familiar to me through her eyes and sensibility.

Dietz also reminded me of how important chrysanthemums are to Asians. A couple of years ago I attended a rare exhibit of Kiku, Japanese style arrangements of potted chrysanthemums at the New York Botanic Garden. I saw how the artistry of Japanese gardeners reflects ideals of perfect form and mindfulness.

I also thought of the way the Chinese consider chrysanthemums the iconic symbol of autumn and imagined holding a moon viewing party in September on the night of the full moon, when the chrysanthemums are in bloom. We could search for Chang’e, the beautiful lady in the moon with her companion the jade rabbit, and eat sweet mooncakes.

The organizers of the chrysanthemum show must also be thinking about the place mums have in Asian culture. On Saturday, November 12  at 2 p.m. students in the Culture of the Lyric in Traditional China: Plants and Poetry class will read selected poems in the Church Exhibition Gallery. Chrysanthemum tea will be served. I should say this delicate tea is made with the blossoms of a particular chrysanthemum, not any old hardy mum.

Dan Ladd gourd sculpture

The Church Gallery is also hosting a new exhibit Shaping Plants: Fruits, Shoots and Roots. The artist, Dan Ladd, is exhibiting examples of his collaborations with nature, gourds grown inside molds to become sculptures, and photographs of pruning and grafting trees and plants into unique and whimsical structures. His art has grown out of his fascination with the adaptability of plants. Ladd will be on hand Friday, November 18 at 6:30 p.m. for an informal talk in the gallery.

While working with different plants in a totally different way, Ladd has similar patience and skill in his handling of plants as the Lyman House staff takes in preparing for this show which is such a treat for the broader community beyond Smith College.

Smith College is known for the excellent education if offers its enrolled students, but it is also an educational resource for nearby communities. The perennial and rock gardens that surround the Lyman Plant House contain hundred of plants, all carefully labeled. These labels educate local gardeners about what blooms when, and how late into the season they will bloom, and the exact names of the plants so they can be brought into their own personal gardens.

I have always been impressed by the way the campus acts as an arboretum, with each tree tagged and labeled. When it is time for any of us to add a tree to our own domestic landscape we are often handicapped by our limited knowledge of trees in general, and the trees that will thrive in our climate in particular. A stroll around the Smith campus is all it takes to be inspired, and given the information to choose a beautiful and interesting tree for our own gardens. A guide to the trees is on sale.

This is not the place to describe all the gardens at Smith, but many readers may have ambled along the paths by Paradise Pond and found the Wildflower and Woodland Garden or the Japanese Garden for Reflection and Contemplation. The Capen Garden includes a rustic rose arbor and a gazebo. There is a garden for every mood and season, or search for learning.

The Lyman Plant House is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is wheelchair accessible. A special handicapped parking space is just outside the Plant House entry. Full information about the gardens and planning a visit is at www.smith.edu/garden.

 

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