I have no-name chrysanthemums, the ordinary garden type: one in a satisfying deep red, another in yellow-brown tiger shades. And very grateful I am for them.
But I can’t help liking some chrysanthemums them better than others. The ones I’m particulary attracted to are spoons and quills.
Quill chrysanthemum petals roll up like tiny tubes–the flowers at the top of this post.
Spoons have petals that widen and dip at the end, like (as you might guess) spoons. Here’s a picture of ‘Emperor of China’.
The shape of the petals is general theory, of course. In actual life, not all of the petals make these perfect forms. But enough of them do to change the personality of the flower.
I have only one each of spoons and quills; for some reason, these varieties seem to be less popular than others. My quill chrysanthemum is nameless, even though I bought it at a good local nursery. As you can see, it was in gorgeous flower when I got it, and I enjoyed it on my porch and in the vase for a couple of weeks.
The spoon chrysanthemum, ‘Emperor of China’, is a longer-lasting relationship. I got from a White Flower Farm catalogue some years ago. It has taken quite a bit of abuse–drought conditions, semishade–and still flowers. Its flowers last, I swear, a month in the vase–and they’re quite beautiful on the plant as well. The foliage is a clear green, and some of it turns brilliant red when the weather cools.
In my researches on the Internet, I found out why my ‘Emperor of China’ won’t give the abundant bloom my nursery-bought (and anonymous) quills do: I didn’t pinch them. Pinching means taking off the growing stem tip and the first set of leaves, starting from the time the new growth is four to six inches (10.2 to 15.2 cm) long, and stopping in early summer. This allows the stems to branch out and form more budding stems; you stop the pinching in early summer in order to avoid decapitating nascent flowers.
While I rather like the exploded-fireworks look of my biggest ‘Emperor of China’, and the happy juxtaposition of its pale-pink blooms flopping on grey-green lavender leaves, it would be fun to have more flowers, so I could cut more bouquets. Sun is also another big factor in getting flowers; since I moved the ‘Emperor’ where it gets a bit more sun, it has definitely filled out. But in less-than-ideal situations where it gets only a few hours of light, the Emperor’s shade-skinny length can be slipped in amongst other plants and still give you a few rewarding flowers.
Chrysanthemums were imported from China into Japan somewhere around 710-793 CE. They were brought in as medicinals-they are still important heat-clearing herbs in Chinese medicine-but the Japanese rapidly began to practice their horticultural magic, and soon came up with many breeds and colors. Chrysanthemums make fantastic displays in seasonal festivals in Japan. Their categories for chrysanthemums are different than the European ones, but ours are most likely derived from theirs.
It’s not easy to find spoon and quill chrysanthemums. I know. I’ve looked for them locally, in catalogues, and in pretty exhaustive searches on the web. If anyone has suggestions as to where I can get more of them, I’d be grateful. Meanwhile, I’ll just keep on enjoying the ones I have.
References/more reading on chrysanthemums:
Human Flower Project – Masachi Yamaguchi’s very interesting writeup on chrysanthemums, gardening, and changing Japanese culture
Bluestone Perennials catalogue, spring 2008
By googling “chrysanthemums”, you can find and download .pdf files from Purdue U, Cornell, Reiman Gardens, and Utah State–all great resources for horticultural information.