A thousand blooms. The art of the chrysanthemum

If you’re like me and go crazy for kiku every fall, one of the best displays is at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, not far south of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. If you were thinking of those ubiquitous bedded balls of yellow, red and white or a few baskets with a dash of pumpkins and cornstalks for flavor, think again. These are definitely not your grandmother’s mums. The annual Chrysanthemum Festival in the greenhouse complex features over twenty-thousand plants from a collection of cultivars started by Pierre du Pont in 1921. This collection, in fact, is now one of the largest in the world. Add that to the incredible artistry, skill and patience needed to create these amazing masterpieces and you have one of the finest fall displays of chrysanthemums anywhere in the world. The plants will be around until November 24 so there are still a couple of weeks to get here before the mums go off to rest and get themselves back in shape for next year. But don’t dawdle. “The Miracle of a Thousand Blooms” is worth the visit alone.


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Upper and middle left, large balls of cascading mums hang over the lawn in the Orangery. They were created using
Chrysanthemum x morifolium ‘Yamanoha-no-Kumo’ (Anemone—One of the thirteen classes into which hybrid mums are divided according to flower form. Each class is noted.); Upper right and bottom left, the central walk though the Orangery is lined with several kinds of exhibition mums, two gorgeously trained domes and a couple of giant flames; Middle and bottom right, C. x m. ‘Trendy Time’ (Spoon) mixed with coleus and croton, Codiaeum variegatum var. dictum ‘Norma’.

Two different kinds of cascading chrysanthemums have been trained into this flame shape. The yellow
C. x m. ‘Megumi (Anemone) and the red-flowered C. x m. Firechief’ (Single/Semi-double).

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The two large domes created with regularly spaced white exhibition chrysanthemums stand as twin sentinels along the main path.
C. x m. ‘Susono-no-Tsuki’ (Irregular Incurve).

Exhibition mum.
C. x m. Golden Splendor’ (Spider).

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Left and middle, potted exhibition mums line the Acacia Passage.
C. x m. Golden Splendor’ (Spider); Right, cascading mums trained into an artistic shape that resembles nothing less than a giant chess piece. C. x m. ‘Hayward Horry’ and ‘Yamanoha-no-Kumo’ (Anemone).


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Upper left, forsythia sage,
Salvia madrensis ‘Dunham’; Upper right, cascade chrysanthemums trained into a shield shape. C. x m. ‘Echo’ (Anemone); Lower left, the standards along this walk were created using Senna bicapsularis ‘Butter Crème’; Lower right, a triangle palm, Dypsis decaryi, underplanted with coleus and exhibition mums. C. x m. ‘Zaryah’ (Spider).

The autumn brilliance of
C. x m. ‘Yofire Island’ (Single/Semi-double).

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Carefully trained exhibition chrysanthemums rule the beds. These specimens are developed on a single stalk from which lateral buds are pinched to maximize the size and display of the remaining flower. Upper and lower left, C. x m. ‘Dusky Queen’ (Spider); Upper right, C. x m. ‘Redwing (Spoon)’; Lower right, C. x m. ’St. Tropez’ (Intermediate Incurve).

Exhibition chrysanthemums
C. x m. ‘Heather James’ (Regular Incurve) and C. x m. ‘Redwing’ (Spoon).

Deep red cascading chrysanthemums trained into ball shapes float above the giant tree ferns in the Exhibition Hall. They composed of
C. x m. ‘Kurume’ (Anemone).

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Upper left, C. x m. ‘Megumi’ (Anemone); Lower left, C. x morfolium ‘Tsuribito’ (Anemone); Lower right, unfortunately no identification was easily found. A shy mum, I guess.

Odd. I’ve been very intent on looking at the chrysanthemums. But is it me? Or do I suddenly get the feeling that the large mum balls hanging from the ceiling in the Orangery are slowly descending...?

Yes, they have definitely come down to earth. A few moments later, it all makes sense as a gardener slowing emerges from the shrubbery with a hose. Time for some watering and maintenance!

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More astonishing exhibition chrysanthemums. Upper left and lower right,
C. x m. ‘Zaryah’ (Spider); Upper right and middle left, C. x m. ‘Hagoromo’ (Regular Incurve); Middle right, C. x m. ‘Purple Light’ (Anemone); Lower left, C. x m. ‘Purple Light’ with purpleheart, Tradescantia pallida ‘Purpurea’, and Mexican bush sage, Salvia leucantha.

Exhibition mum.
C. x m. ‘Edo 25’ (Exotic).

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Upper left and right, exhibition chrysanthemums.
C. x m. ‘Bill Hlden’ (Reflex); Lower left, C. x m. ‘Tsuribito’ (Anemone). Lower right, Aha! Shades of Oz. The wizardry is controlled from a secret room artfully hidden behind a mirrored door. This is from where the gardeners magically fly and lower the hanging baskets for tending and maintenance.

Cascade chrysanthemums trained into cloud shapes.
C. x m. ‘Tsuribito’ (Anemone).

Over a hundred different cultivars have been grafted onto a stock plant and trained into a dome shape. Each flower is identified and this tour de force of horticultural skill and creativity serves as a living legend to the many different blossoms that appear in the exhibition. It took Longwood’s staff several years to perfect this display.
 100 Flowers. One Plant.

White cascade chrysanthemums trained into cloud shapes and set off with a silvery triangle palm,
Dypsis decaryi. C. x m. ‘Yamanoha-no-Kumo’ (Anemone).

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C. x m. ‘Vesuvius’ (Anemone); Right, C. x m. ‘Kermit’ (Pompom).

Cascading chrysanthemums are wrapped around the pillars at the front of the Tree Fern Court in the Exhibition Hall.
C. x m. ‘Megumi’ (Anemone).


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Top and upper left, more cascading chrysanthemums trained into a double arch. Upper right,
C. x m. ‘Bolo de Oro’ (Irregular Incurve). Lower left and right, various exhibition chrysanthemums bedded out in the East Conservatory.

And last but not least, the fantastical “Miracle of a Thousand Blooms”. Wow! Over a thousand perfectly spaced flowers comprise the largest blooming dome ever achieved in the United States. Longwood’s staff was trained in Japan and it took over eighteen months and fifteen hundred hours of care to achieve this incredible display of
C. x m. ‘Susono-no Hikari’ (Irregular Incurve).