Once known as just autumn flowering, the introduction of new hardier varieties and improved growing conditions have finally established the chrysanthemum as an all year round delight.
You are never very far from a chrysanthemum.
From garage forecourts to supermarkets, church displays, traditional florists and yes in our gardens centres -they are everywhere and they are around increasingly all year.
New varieties and techniques mean we can buy now cut chrysanthemums every day of the year.
In fact the iniquitousness was once seen as their weakness but thanks to changes in the types of chrysanthemums and how we grow them that is no longer the case.
An increasing number of varieties, initially the dwarf cultivars but now many more can be grown outside in cooler areas and they are no longer just seen as autumn flowering.
Growing methods have changed, varieties have been developed to allow shorter flowering periods and more are now better resistant to lower temperatures. Chrysanthemum was once known in the horticulture trade as a short day commercial flower. It developed flower buds when days were less than 12 hours long and the blooming period was short under traditional cultural methods. This has now gradually been changing –most of it driven by the popularity of the flowers and the consumer demand to have them available for longer periods of the year.
Nearly 150 types of chrysanthemum have gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.
Over the years the RHS has conducted numerous chrysanthemum trials, and the reports of these are available free on-line; an invaluable resource for chrysanthemum growers. What the research and trials have shown is that it is possible to produce flowers all year round.
Chrysanthemum flowers come in various forms, from simple daisy shapes to complex pompons and buttons. Many hybrids and thousands of cultivars have been developed for gardens and cut flower production. Perhaps the most important hybrid is Chrysanthemum x grandiflorum, derived originally from the species Chrysanthemum indicum, but also historically involving a number of other species, some of the earliest of which were probably never properly recorded.
Chrysanthemums seem to be the most misunderstood and often badly labelled plant at some garden centres. Millions are sold as annuals every year, the pots set on patios, the brilliant colours enjoyed until just after frost and then the plant is thrown away. Pity, because chrysanthemums offer so much more and can be encouraged to bloom year after year.
Chrysanthemum flowering time is officially defined as early (September), mid (October) or late (November).
The category of flower type depends on the arrangement of petals on the flower and the shape of the bloom, such as whether the petals are reflexed or incurved, and whether the blooms are single or pompon shaped.
There are six principal chrysanthemum colour groups, bronze, pink, purple, red, yellow and salmon. Each of these can be further classified as standard, ‘light’ or ‘deep’. There are also other groups called ‘white’, ‘cream’ and ‘other colours’, meaning there are 21 possible colour descriptions overall.
With such a wide variety of flower form and colour available, the National Chrysanthemum Society produced a classification system, and each registered cultivar has been allocated a classification number, which is often given after the name on specialist nursery lists. For example, Chrysanthemum ‘Joyce Frieda’ has the code number 13bY. The number 13 refers to the flowering time and classification group, 1 meaning it is mid-season flowering and 3 categorising it as an incurved bloom. The letter b defines the size of bloom, which is medium for ‘Joyce Freda’, and the second letter (Y) describes the colour, in this case yellow.
As well as taller ones (often grown for cut flowers) that will need staking, many dwarf cultivars are available for use in containers and borders. These can be grown outside all year round in mild areas.
There are also many different ways of growing them. Some methods of cultivation are easy, others more complicated. For example, late chrysanthemums need to be grown under glass to bring them into flower later in the season. Likewise cut-flower production under glass uses curtains and lights to mimic the correct season to produce flowers all year round – a whole world of technical complexity in itself.
The efforts made to give them an all year round appeal has succeeded in increasing the popularity of the flower even further.