By Lydia Lund, Conservatory Seasonal Gardener
The chrysanthemum was first cultivated in China as a flowering herb and is described in writings as early as the 15th Century B.C. Ancient Chinese pottery depicted the chrysanthemum much as we know it today. As an herb, it was believed to have the power of life. Around the 8th century A.D., chrysanthemums appeared in Japan. So taken were the Japanese with this flower that they adopted a single flowered chrysanthemum as the crest and official seal of the Emperor.
It wasn’t until the 17th century that the chrysanthemum was introduced into European culture. Now it is the largest commercially produced flower in the U.S. and Britain due to its ease of cultivation, capability to bloom on schedule, diversity of bloom forms and colors, and holding quality of the blooms. Some mum cultivars can be trained into different forms. Here at the Volunteer Park Conservatory, chrysanthemums are trained into cascade, gnome, and standard forms.
My specific task this summer was to train cultivars of Chinese mums given to The Conservatory in 2001 by the Shanghai Botanical Gardens. To create the standard display form, I started by planting three single cuttings (of the same variety) in one pot. Once the plants reached about eight inches tall, I cut them back and allowed three main side shoots to develop. I staked each of the nine stalks and as they grew, continuously pinched the side shoots and buds to create nine beautiful, full blooms. Seasonal Gardener, Sandra Hutchinson trained another batch of standard mums, including Korean and Japanese varieties, currently on display in the Seasonal House.
Training the cascade mums is an equally-involved but rather different process, taken on this year by Senior Gardener, Jeanne Schollmeyer. One cutting is trained to flow down a wire mesh lattice. In order to manipulate the growth of the mums in the downward direction the pots are placed on a stand that allows the gardeners to incrementally adjust the angle that the pots sit. The stand was specifically designed and built for growing mums here at the conservatory. The mums must be vigilantly pinched and tied down to create the cascade display form.
Another method of mum manipulation involves forcing different varieties to bloom at different times in order to keep the seasonal house with a steady flow of fresh and diverse mum varieties for visitors to enjoy. Because chrysanthemums naturally bloom in response to shortening days in the fall, the gardeners can control when each batch of mums will bloom by using shade cloth or lights to artificially alter the period of daylight mums are grown in.
We got a late start with the mums this year but they are already out for display, right on time. Visitors are welcome to stop by to enjoy them any time now up through the end of November.