A lifelong love of mums
Since childhood, this gardener has been surrounded by chrysanthemums, generating a lifelong love of the plants that brighten fall as no others can.
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Chrysanthemums – or mums, as most of us refer to them – are the quintessential fall favorites, both in beds and borders and as cut flowers.
Hawked by every corner grocery store, supermarket, big box store, garden center, nursery, and farmers' market, they are best known for firing up fall with their incredible color.
Planted by the gazillions from single plants popped into containers adorning our porches, balconies, and front steps to the numerous varied or intricate displays at industrial parks, city parks, and botanical gardens, mums are, nevertheless, reviled by many.
During one of those rare moments of introspection that come sometimes when one reaches a certain age, I realize that I’ve spent many memorable and fun moments of my life in the company of mums.
The mums of childhood
In my own gardens, I never thought of my gangly plants as some horticulturally exotic friends, but rather more as constant companions -- warm and fuzzy remnants of my childhood.
I remember clearly those overcast, crisp October days when as a mere child I trailed behind my mom or grandmother as they strode about their garden ablaze in vivid gold, bright purple, pale lavender, creamy white, butter yellow, and bold red mums stuck in odd places, hither and yon, throughout their small yard.
I would lug a bucket nearly as big as I was – or so it felt at the time – filled with a few inches of water to hold the precious blooms of the dozens upon dozens of stems of the bright, bold beauties they cut off right before the oncoming frosts. Later, back in the house, hours were spent in creating dreamy arrangements full of multi-hued color with these vivid blooms that decorated the house for weeks.
Mums are classified by their flower forms, which are just as varied as their colors.
Daisy types resemble their namesake; delicate and lacy spiders have those long, tightly curved petals with hooked tips so popular in Oriental art; and spoons look just like your imagination dictates – rolled petals that are flattened at the tips.
Decorative types have overlapping petals, or rays, that either curve upward (incurve) creating a round ball or bend downward (reflex) and look something like a flattened ball. The pompons (not pompoms), have a globe-shaped head with short petals, of which the smaller varieties are called buttons.
Neighbors in the old Chicago neighborhood where I grew up each had their specialty.
My grandma adored the spoons, while my mom stuck with the more traditional decorative types. The elderly gentleman two houses down had the greatest collection of spiders, while the genteel lady on the corner hovered over her large incurve mums like a mother hen over her chicks.
Blossoms were shared, and there were always vases in our house filled with the neighbors’ prized offerings.
During my college days, mums were synonymous with football games. Coeds (gee, do we even use this term anymore?) pinned on giant yellow or white “football” mums (our corner lady’s incurve bloomers) primped with the school’s initials emblazed in blue and orange pipe cleaners smushed in the center of the blossom.