Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
October, 2004
Regional Report

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Although I enjoy mums in the traditional autumnal shades of copper, russet, and gold, the pinks and purples always catch my eye.

Mums, Mums, and More Mums

Recently I made two fruitless trips to photograph some summer annuals at their end-of-the-season best. I wanted to catch them before frost killed them off, but each week they seemed better than the week before so I tried to delay the photo as long as I could.

One planting was at a shopping center, of all places, and consisted of begonias and impatiens in a wild jumble along with petunias, cannas, and some silvery dusty miller. Whoever planted these together had a great eye for color and also cared for these beauties to bring them to peak performance. Such a brilliant combination of different pinks, purples, corals, and reds could have been a disastrous hodgepodge, but this time it had melded together to form a cheerful and eye-catching burst of color.

The second fabulous planting was a rectangular bed surrounding an urban street tree, a patchwork of gleaming white impatiens and hot red salvia planted as unlikely companions in a carpet-bedding scheme. Both of these wildly successful plantings surprised me because they mixed together shade-loving impatiens with some real sun-lovers, yet all grew lustily. One was sited in full morning sun with afternoon shade, the other in very bright dappled light under the immature street tree. My guess is that they were well fed and watered, and also benefited from the relatively cool and cloudy summer.

I enjoyed watching these two plantings mature over the course of the summer, and come fall they were picture-perfect: lush, healthy, and full of color, which is, after all, why we love to grow annual flowers. I had hoped to photograph these plantings for inspiration during the winter months, so imagine my surprise upon finding them summarily gone.

Tried and True
To my shock, both annual beds had been redone with a new seasonal planting for fall. At the first site, the landscaping crew was busily tidying up the new mulch as I rounded the corner. When I reached the other site very early one morning, it appeared the garden elves had been at work by moonlight because the newly installed plants had already been mulched and watered, the new plants sparkling with water droplets. What had been planted? Well mums, of course! A solid, ground-covering blanket of golden yellow mums in one spot, a symmetrically regimented army of purply pink mums in the other.

Mums are nice enough and make a dependable fall bedding plant or seasonal accent to be sure. They come in different heights and many colors (except blue) and in different flower shapes, ranging from rounded pompons to daisy forms. And growers do such a great job with them to produce quantities of consistent, predictable, uniformly shaped and heavily budded plants.

Planting these mums in the fall provides convenience, brilliant color, and instant gratification -- a welcome solution for a bare spot in the garden, filler for a new planting area, or to perk up a dull front porch. As these instant landscape changes demonstrated, mums quickly orchestrate a dramatic seasonal display.

While the well-branched and mounded plants continue to burst into bloom over the coming weeks we will all enjoy their bright flowers and ability to withstand frost. But when the blooms have faded and the plants are removed to make way for spring bulbs, I, for one, won't be too sorry. Mums have attained a level of saturation and overuse that I once considered only possible for ornamental kale -- you know, those dumpy, purple cabbages I love to (good-naturedly) complain about.

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