October 1, 2011 UPDATE.
Mums so easy to dismiss last year, stared at me with their perky fringe eyelashes batting in the buffeting breeze or with the weight of the world wilting their heavy heads, some massive and all white like my giant white rabbit and in equal despair (victims of Hurricane Irene). Where others saw compost heap, I saw possible salvation and resuscitation and all of a sudden they were in my car. I forsook the brilliant asters at more than twice the cost, and bought my dreaded mums. I am part of the pack of mindless autumn flower buyers. But how could I let their petals be in vain. They tipped regularly (and were not righted) on the isolated weather-worn wooden table at the back of the farm stand that appeared the botanical equivalent of the Island of Misfit Toys. They are not perfect, but they found a home with me. I am a Chrysanthemum hypocrite, this year and I will live with my choice. Was it really just a year ago, that I composed the following post?
Congratulations to the “Coalition to Promote the Mum as the Only Fall Flower” that I believe must exist, based on the obvious monopoly it holds each fall on the front steps of every single house in New England.
In spring, the Tulip Group, at least, has some competition from the Daffodil Association, and the Summer Rose Partnership is regularly challenged by the Daylily and the Hydrangea Committees, but fall offers nothing but Mums.
How did this come to be? In my mind the first brilliant marketing move was changing the name – no one can spell and only half can pronounce “chrysanthemum”. So the abbreviated name that brings to mind our mothers seems at first warm and nurturing but with a touch of admonishment on the ready. Remember the old tv ads: “It isn’t nice to fool Mother Nature” followed by a crack of lightening? So as the first yellow bus comes to collect our children, our well behaved neighbors set out to pick up “the” fall flower.
I’m not buying it. I like my garden to surprise and cheer me with vibrant magentas and Sunkist oranges, Kool-Aid purples and party balloon red. Mums, on the other hand, come in a range of respectable colors that hint at decay – the rust that seems one chill day short of “dead oak leaf” brown. The slightly deadened/dusty tones of the maroon (a red wannabe in my estimation) and faded purple and especially those yellow blooms that are already tinged with brown, make it hard to tell whether they are at peak or a forgotten watering away from the compost heap.
So I am starting a movement of home decorators who rebel against being told what to plant. Rogers Spring Hill Garden Center in Bradford MA ushered me beyond rows and rows of mums to prove that options exist. From them I learned that hearty asters come in magenta and purple and are perennials if handled correctly, and snap dragons are abundant in salmon and Pepto-Bismol pink. Icicle pansies come in colors to challenge the brightest sunset, and can overwinter. But I also learned that mums (damn them) can be perennials too, so no advantage there. Kale is another long growing option, but come on, who picks cabbage as a favorite vegetable, much less favorite “flower”.
I’ll be heading back to Rogers Spring Hill this weekend, where I’ll be buying the colors I love to celebrate a season I am not as enthusiastic about. And if you have any issues with my choices I suggest you keep mum about it!
© 2010 Alison Colby-Campbell