Peter Dowdall says the chrysanthemum not only brightens up dark days, but has a spiritual aspect too.
It can be a strange time of year in the garden — a period of transition with the winter interest plants not yet taking centre stage, but the summer varieties long since gone.
A great way to inject colour into the garden over the next few months is by introducing some Chrysanthemums. What we call ‘pot mums’ and know as attractive plants for the autumn/winter garden, have for centuries been connected with spiritualism. The first of November, All Saint’s Day is a traditional day here to remember the dead and to visit family graves — indeed this custom is upheld in many countries across Europe.
Traditionally the Chrysanthemum is brought to graveyards on All Saint’s Day and during the month of November in many European countries, but it’s not a plant with that association here in Ireland.
Cemeteries all over Italy, Holland, France and more, will be alive with the bright coloured balls of bloom — in France the flower has been used as the fleurissement or floral decoration for tombs for several hundred years.
The ninth day of the ninth lunar month is a traditional Chinese holiday called, naturally, the Double Ninth Festival and because it’s said to be a dangerous day, (it contains too much yang), it’s customary among other things to drink chrysanthemum wine. It is believed to have cleansing properties and also to prevent illnesses.
Here in Ireland we see it purely for its aesthetic qualities, though these can’t be understated. All colours are represented in Chrysanthemums and the plant is absolutely covered in blooms from the moment it grows in a compact dome shape up and up to about 30cm (12”) in diameter
In full flower, you can’t even make out the foliage and yet for me it still manages not to be too garish or loud. If plants were dinner party guests then the Chrysanthemum would be the one with the bright shirt that many of us wouldn’t have the courage to wear. The Chrysanthemum will revel in the attention, showing off at its best for six to eight weeks from September into November.
Once the first and best flush of flowering is finished, dead head the whole plant by simply cutting all the spent blooms — for on the stems below, lie more flower buds just waiting for their chance to shine. Now the second flush will never be as good as the first, but it will still provide colour for another few weeks.
Chrysanthemums are herbaceous, dying back for the winter, so the best way to ensure they last from year to year is to lift them out of the ground and pot them up indoors for the winter.
They respond well to being divided too — during the winter or alternatively you can take cuttings anytime from August to about now. They’ll root quite quickly and easily and provide you with several new plants for next year.
Another great one for the next few months and from the same family as the Chrysanthemum is Aster ‘Monch’.
Strong mauve coloured flowers are produced now and into mid winter on top of erect green stems. Only coming into flower from now onwards, this Michelmas Daisy is one of the only perennials that I can think of that gives of its best during the winter months.
Normally it’s subtleties, such as winter stem and bark effects, along with differing textures, bring interest to the garden in the winter so to have something like ‘Monch’ showing off with its plentiful blooms is very welcome indeed.
These too will take well from cuttings taken from new growth during July and August but if you missed your window of opportunity then fear not, for they will also divide very easily during January and February with an established clump giving you many smaller new plants.
There are many varieties of Aster available but ‘Monch’ is well worth holding out for, as it tends not to flop around after heavy rain like most of the others.
More importantly, it is nearly totally resistant to mildew, the curse of nearly all Asters. If ‘Monch’ was at the same dinner party he would be the one in a more toned down shirt, but full of cheerfulness and personality, looking a bit sheepishly and embarrassed at his louder more colourful cousin, the Chrysanthemum.
We don’t need to visit a cemetery to bring family members to mind this All Saint’s Day, simply create an area of reflection in your own garden where you can put a favourite plant as an act of remembrance. Perhaps,even some Chrysanthemums.
WORK FOR THE WEEK
This year will be forever remembered as the year of the six-month summer but we are now well and truly winter-bound and it is time to do some general tidy up in the garden.
I am pretty confident we will indeed pay for all the good weather with a few bad months. And wind and rain have already begun. Our annual rainfall tends to be similar each year and considering we had six months with little or no rain, then I think we can expect six months worth before the end of the year.
So now is the time to think safety. Clean paths and unblock drains, remove unstable tree branches that may be hazardous to houses, cars or pedestrians — especially in high winds.
Use an algicide on paths, or just plain elbow grease, to remove unsightly algae and moss which can be deadly when wet.
Make good use of all the rain by collecting it in water butts denying Enda, et al, the extra litres and save on water charges next year.
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