In the Garden:
Hardy Clara Curtis chrysanthemums return reliably year after year to brighten the garden in late summer and fall.
Mum's the Word
I love it when the fall mums begin appearing in garden centers and nurseries. After a long summer, even my best cared for container plantings are looking a little bedraggled. As the days turn cool and crisp, I get renewed enthusiasm for working in the garden, and nothing spruces things up faster than a few containers of chrysanthemums in autumnal hues. Sometimes I include them with other seasonal choices in new container plantings, sometimes I plant them in the ground to fill in spots where earlier blooming annuals have petered out, and often I just cluster several pots in a fall vignette of complementary colors along with pumpkins and ornamental cabbages.
One thing to keep in mind about the mums that are offered for sale as the seasons change is that, for the most part, they have been selected for flower form and color, rather than winter hardiness. So in my Zone 4 garden, for example, and in other parts of New England, there is no assurance that they will make it through the winter. I think of them as annuals or even long lasting bouquets, rather than perennial additions to my garden.
Sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised, however. I have a mum in a shade of dusty purple whose cultivar name I've forgotten that has come back now reliably for several winters. I've tucked in offshoots around my garden and, if I think of it, I pinch back the plants a couple of times in June to encourage a denser growth habit. Even so, my plants never have the symmetry of newly purchased plants that have been expertly tended by professional growers all season, but they are still a welcome note of late season color.
If you want a mum that you can count on to return each spring, consider planting Chrysanthemum x rubellum 'Clara Curtis'. In mid to late summer this plant will be covered with 3-inch wide, pink, daisy-like flowers with yellow centers on plants that get about 18-24 inches tall. (Those pesky plant taxonomists who seem to always be changing familiar names have now decreed that 'Clara' is more correctly named Dendranthema x zawadskii, but you'll still find her offered commonly under her old name.) Mildew free and untroubled by pests, 'Clara' is an easy care addition to the garden, but she will be less floppy if you pinch back the new growth a couple of times in June. She is also a fast spreader, especially in light soil, and is best divided every couple of years in spring.
For a beautiful color contrast with 'Clara,' consider planting another "garden girl," the hardy chrysanthemum 'Mary Stoker'. With flowers of a beautiful, soft apricot-yellow that turn more golden as the weather cools, she makes a wonderful partner with 'Clara,' as well as many other fall flowers. 'Mary' begins blooming a little later in the season than 'Clara,' but both will continue their show until hard frosts close the garden down.
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