Monday, October 11, 2010

Mums The Word

My muse for today's blog is a coworker and friend who has become a new homeowner. She's faced with the dilemma of all non-gardeners that suddenly find themselves with a town lot whose previous owner seemed to have neither the talent nor the interest for gardening. A forsythia seems to be the only salvageable landscape-worthy plant in her yard at present. Thus, she has been slyly and periodically pestering me with questions about plants and landscaping, seeking out knowledge from her captive manic Extension Master Gardener, and probably secretly hoping that I'll show up with a bulldozer and a truckload of plants and a sixteen color, meticulously thought out plan for the landscape.  Alas for her, like most poorly-trained men of my generation, I'm oblivious to feminine hints.

Her latest gardening question though, struck a nerve, as did her suggestion later that I should write about it and call it "Mums The Word" (she loves really bad puns).  She had just asked via email if I thought that "mums" would do well under a large shade tree that borders her property.  I calmly replied that mums wouldn't do well in the constant dry shade that I knew her spot had, and that she needed to plant them where they'd get six hours of sun or more.

That's not what I wanted to say, though.  She doesn't know that I hate mums, or more properly Chrysanthemum sp. with a passion second only to my distaste for spireas.  Spireas are a special case with me as readers of Garden Musings (the book) know, but mums are about as worthless in the garden in my estimation. Yes, they provide us some nice fall color, if you just want flowers, but they provide nothing interesting in the way of decent foliage contrast or shape variation for Fall, and the rest of the year they're either just a slowly-growing blob that sits there like a green turd in your landscape or else they are just dead stems that break with the first snowfall.  To add insult to injury, although mums are a perennial elsewhere, they're really an annual in Kansas, weakening in at most a year or two likely because of the dry hot Kansas summers and drier cold Flint Hills winters.  I'd really sooner have my friend plant ragweed in her yard than a border of mums.

Look, for instance, at the picture above of the current landscaping (taken this morning) around some KSU apartments that stand opposite the exit I use every night from work.  Let me repeat that;  I'm forced to look at this landscaping debacle every night.  What insanity overtook the K-State groundsmen that they thought these alternating yellow and orange mums would make a wise display?  K-State colors, guys and gals, are purple and white. Now it's true that the most common colors of mums put up for sale seem to be yellows and oranges and russets, probably because the fall colors sell best in what people think of as fall flowers, but mums do actually exist in purple and white.  I've seen them.  If we must have round balls of color alternating in our college landscape, perhaps purple and white might have been a better choice, here at a stone's throw from the KSU football stadium.  Luckily these were just planted this year; I'm betting they don't survive till next year and thus we'll have a chance to get something better.

I have no chrysanthemums at all in my garden, just as I have no spireas.  The closest thing I'll allow is the wonderful Shasta Daisy, which blooms during the height of summer and used to be classified as a chrysanthemum, but today has been wisely moved to the Leucanthemum x superbum taxonomic group.  Please, everyone, let's not whisper the word "mum" around me again; it plays havoc with my blood pressure, as you can now attest to.


  1. Mum. Mum.... MUM! ;-)

    I have no passionate feelings toward mums. However! Don't even get me started on Hostas... argh.

  2. I must agree with you regarding Mums ... but add an 'm' and its good to drink in the garden. I do have a single daisy like mum blooming now and into November if we do not have a hard frost. It is a mystery mum to me... name wise but a great feeder for the honeybees and any late butterflies. You might even like it... pale pinky lavender in color... looks like a daisy and the foliage is paler green. It is too bad about your view! Glad to have found your blog over at Blotanical. ;>)

  3. I must admit those colors clash. You mentioned that they are annuals so very soon you don't have to tolerate them anymore. Good thing that they don't last long, right? I didn't mention 'the' word. Hope your blood pressure is back to normal.

  4. I must agree with your assessment of the KSU display. Being a Okie State graduate I do appreciate the orange! Go pokes! Anyways, as many younger people say today, I'm glad to read about someone gardening in the flint hills. I too garden on the "shallow facade of clay overlying the chert and limestone bedrock" in Winfield, Kansas. I worked for a nursery as a designer in El Dorado and the Andover areas, these were by far the worst soils I have ever dealt with in my gardening endeavors. Oh, I have four varieties of mums, I will send you some photos. Lol.

  5. I love a passionate opinion, even if I do not wholly agree. I laughed when I read your description "landscape debacle". Certainly the yellow and orange front garden display is rather tasteless.
    I am afraid that I do find a temporary, limited time use for the mums in my front garden. ( all of them one color, a deep burgundy-red). I agree that their foliage is nothing to write home about and so I dispose of them after the first frost. Its into the compost bin in late fall.
    I also happen to like Spirea. I think it is how they are most often used in commercial landscaping that gives them their "common" reputation.

  6. You know what the ultimate insult is? ORANGE MUMS. Take a hideous plant and mate it with a hideous color, and you get Home Depot specials. Enjoying your blog. I'm just north of you in Nebraska. Mumless.


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