Chrysanthemum adds cheer to winter gloom
THE chrysanthemum has a rather ragged charm, a tousled informality that suits the season of decline. As other plants shut up shop for winter, the chrysanthemum ventures to keep its daisy-type flowers open. Of course, it is native to a more amenable climate in Asia where it gets its flowering done a bit earlier.
Chrysanthemum means 'yellow flower'. Some Chinese varieties were imported to France about two centuries ago and chrysanthemums have been cultivated since. The colours are very vibrant, warm shades of yellow, bronze, red, maroon and purple.
Once a very popular flower, most gardens featured a few plants and some growers assiduously tended huge, perfect flowers for show. While there are still large-flowered show varieties available for growing under glass in late summer and autumn, the trend has moved to shorter varieties with lots of small flowers that need less attention.
Rounded bushy plants with button flowers are now available in flower from late summer and make superb container plants. Types with spray flowers are more upright. Chrysanthemums are popular as a temporary house plant, and it can be taken from the pot and planted into the garden after flowering. Or the plants in flower can be popped directly into a border for a touch of colour in autumn.
Some old garden varieties are still knocking around, such as 'Emperor of China' which has soft pink quilled flowers, part of a good group known as Korean chrysanthemums. 'Belle' is a strong red daisy flower. 'Cottage Yellow' is an old yellow variety.
These varieties are quite robust and some kinds are long-lived. There has been much cross-breeding over the years, and it is difficult to predict which kinds are likely to be hardy and long-lived. The simplest way is just to plant out the smaller-flowered kinds and see how they get on.
If the soil is too wet, especially in winter, they just fade away. Slugs are a problem in wet soil too and they can do severe damage to chrysanthemums, eating the new shoots at ground level before they get going, often before the damage is noticed. Chrysanthemums do best on well-drained soil, ideally limy, in full sunshine.
The soil should be fertile but not too rich as the plants become leafy and soft and tend to flop over. But even if they flop over, the blast of colour that chrysanthemums can bring is still worthwhile. Some varieties begin to flower in August and others only show colour in late autumn and into winter.