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The Last Mum

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Wednesday, November 22, 2000

My late chrysanthemum is blooming. This plant flowers so late that some years the frost blasts the buds before they can open. But if the weather cooperates, fresh flowers open their pink, daisy-like faces for a few last weeks — a lovely closing act for my garden. This year is one of the lucky ones: we had one hard frost toward the end of September, but for weeks afterward the weather was relatively mild.

Most of the garden is in its annual ruin. Even the asters, that were so glorious in late September — a cloud of blues — have finally become drab. So I treasure the surprising clear pink of this mum, amidst all this brown. I’m also grateful for a mum that’s ruggedly hardy.

I’ve moved it several times in order to give it the most sun. I still have a lot to learn about the patterns of sun and shade on this property, even though we’ve been here more than twenty years. I used to just think of various areas as sunny or shady in the morning or afternoon, but I’m finally learning to watch the sun through the year, too. Chrysanthemums are very dependent on light to trigger the hormones that control bloom. In order to see these pink delights, I want to give them all the help I can.

Most mums, in addition to being marginally hardy, are also greedy for water and food. This one does fine with rain, and with whatever food I remember to throw on it, which some years isn’t anything. I think I did give it some fertilizer this year. I also didn’t cut it back in spring, even though last year’s stems looked ugly covered with dead gray leaves. Usually I do it; I just didn’t get around to it this year. As a result, when eventually the plant put out new leaves, It had tall, graceful stems — which make the flowers that much more dramatic.

So much of gardening is unpredictable. You try to learn what you can about what affects the growth and health of your plants, you do what you can to help — and then the frost hits early, or it’s a wet summer, or the woodchuck comes back. You can call it luck, but there really are reasons — just too many for a human being to understand or control them all. You can call it a green thumb, but I think it’s just making an effort to pay attention.

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© Copyright 2000 Catherine Holmes Clark