Tuesday, 18 November 2008


There's a deliciously bizarre exhibish of Chrysanthemums, just now, in the ritzy glasshouse at the RHS Garden, Wisley. 
Exploding fireworks - Japanese Chrysanthemums at Wisley

I went there last week to photograph the collection of Plectranthus - which is utterly fascinating - but the surprise show that utterly bowled me over was a staggeringly colourful display of potted chrysanthemums.  

Let's not call these big, jolly flowers 'naff' or 'crass' or 'garish' or 'loud' or 'jazzy.'  Tawdry, they most definitely aren't, but I could still see one or two of the more genteel class of Home Counties ladies wot lunch wincing a bit at the strength of the colours and shuddering with carefully suppressed disdain at the size, my dear, the sheer vulgar size of some of the blooms. To me, though, it was the perfect antidote to a dull November day - big flowers, bright colour, startling combinations.

The centrepiece, and by far the most interesting bit of the display, is taken up by what I assumed to be a group of classic Japanese varieties.  But was there a label anywhere?  No! Was there any interpretation?  No!  Did we know what the hell we were looking at? Well, I didn't. Indeed, some of the blooms were so bizarre and distinctive that I wondered whether they were chrysanthemums at all.  Some looked like elegantly shredded coconut; others like drowning spiders.  The ones which impressed me most were singles with huge, floppy ray florets which sagged and curled under their own weight.  I tried curator  Jim Gardiner's blog for more info, when I got home but his picture captions are strikingly uninformative!  I'm on the case, though, and will find out more when time permits.

I believe this variety is called 'Kokorozukasi' which might mean 'Sincerity'
- but I honestly don't know.  Pretty, though, isn't it?

I tried Googling, when I got home, and discovered that Japanese for 'chrysanthemum' is 'kiku.' Rather an easier word than our own, and less ambiguous than the American 'Mum.'  (I was given a plant, once, called a 'cushion Mum' but when I sat on it, it got squashed. I wonder if there's one called a Hockey Mum?)  China and Japan were both developing this genus long before its introduction into Europe, so it's hardly surprising that they've followed different lines.

British breeders of all plants tend to work very hard to make their varieties as ugly and unnatural as possible. The same cannot be said for the Japanese.  They certainly have their Frankensteins - there's very little natural about what I saw at Wisley - but they develop their cultivars in a completely different way.  The long, elegant petals of some - so frail that they need special supports, fixed just beneath the blooms - I thought were beautiful.  As they mature, the ray florets curl, like fur on a poodle.  Compared with the British chrysanthemums - solid, clumping, mops on sticks - their flowers spoke a language, commanded respect and awe.  They are clearly part of an ancient and revered lineage.

Adjacent to the big display, there's a trial going on, of late flowering chrysanthemum varieties which is well worth walking through and gives excellent ideas for what to grow at home - and what not to grow!  So if you're within a mile or two of the M25, in the next couple of weeks, get yourself over to Wisley.  It's a whisker south of the A3/M25 junction

Part of the chrysanthemum display in the Glasshouse at Wisley

The Plectranthus collection I mentioned is pretty amazing, too, but more of that anon. 


  1. The New York Blotanical Garden has had a similiar display this past few weeks too.

    They have recently started a blog and a few images were shown there too.

    I think they are like Dahlias - once deeply out of favour, but now making a comeback?

    Certainly you have to admire the craft of the breeders and growers in some of the recurves - they defy nature!

    Thanks for the tip about the end date - I may very well get myself along there this week - its a favourite haunt.


  2. I do like looking at Kikus but tend to shy away from growing them as for some reason I think they are very needy. In the back of my mind there is something about bringing them on in greenhouse and pinching out etc etc. Maybe this is just old school technique and they are quite happy with being treated like Dahlias but who knows.

  3. I could very easily get into 'mums' i have a couple in the garden the blooms are fantastic. My Greatgrandfather was a champion grower have a look at the pictures of his glasshouse on mt blog.


  4. Gorgeous, this first photo is really something out of the extraordinary. It does look like fireworks. Is this exhibition now?

  5. Thank goodness for blogs like yours Nigel - it was all "they've run out of snow tires at the garages" on the radio this a.m. So lovely to see those wonderful mums - those sold to us in big box stores look like muffins rammed into tuna tins.

  6. Zoe, I was just about to say exactly the same thing... their NYC exhibit looks ammeeeeeezing

  7. The smell of old Chrysanthemum leaves stuck in vases is part of my history and I love it even though it's odd and musty.

    I have mixed feelings about the flowers themselves but keep peering into the wonderful whirly fireworks photo at the top of your post.

    Weymouth has fireworks all through the summer as well as in November so we are used to huge chrysanthemums in the sky - but I hadn't realised Catherine Wheels are chrysanthemums too.