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Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, 14 September 2001

Mums are my favorite flower. When I was little, my mom used to take me to the annual exhibition at the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago: the plants occupied tier upon tier of staging; the radiant colors dazzled me and I was spellbound by the magical shapes—huge “football” pompoms, fantastic spiders, cute little buttons, fresh-faced daisies, ones with petals shaped like spoons, which make the flower look like a delicate explosion because of the contrast between the narrow “handle” of the petal and the wider “bowl” of the spoon.... In that huge moist glass room the musky, aromatic smell of the mums was strong. Ever since, that smell has made me happy.

However they are very demanding plants. In addition to moist, well-drained soil, they want a lot of water in dry and hot weather. They are greedy feeders; my encyclopedia says to plant them in soil enriched with well-rotted manure and top-dress them with balanced fertilizer when you plant them and apply liquid fertilizer every 7 to 10 days from midsummer until buds begin to show color. They insist on full sun. The biggest and most showy varieties, though perennial, are not hardy in our USDA Zone 5. Even most of the hardy ones need to be heavily mulched to protect them from the cold and from frost heaving.

Nevertheless I have tried and tried to grow mums—with little success. Two varieties have thrived for me for many years: a small-flowered, early blooming white pompom called ‘Baby Tears,’ and one that blooms so late that some years the frost blasts the buds before they open to become pink daisies. I wish I knew the name of that plant, but I must have got it long before I started keeping track. None of the fancy varieties I have planted over the years have lasted.

So I buy new ones each fall, and keep them in pretty pots on the front steps until the frost kills them. I started doing this when Ward and I were living in France. People buy more flowers there than here; for example when you go to someone else’s for dinner you always take flowers. But the relocation experts warned us not to take chrysanthemums as a hostess gift, even though there were gorgeous ones for sale everywhere around the end of October. They are only for putting on graves to observe All Soul’s Day! But that didn’t prevent me from giving them to myself.

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© Copyright 2001 Catherine Holmes Clark