There are two images that signal to me that my joy in my garden is numbered by the ever-shortening days and hours. One of them comes with sounds as well as an image— the sounds of cheering, cursing, grunts, thuds, and beer commercial theme songs.
I can’t do anything about the football season, nor do I wish to. It’s part of life and I understand that it’s something that really interests a lot of people, some of whom I care about or respect for other reasons.
However, must we have mums? Must we? Through an arrangement with a local TV station, my magazine does a “lifestyle” segment once a week, and I often (to make it easy on myself) choose to focus on gardening. While discussing the topic with our host last week, she said, “Oh gardening—you’ll want to talk about getting started on your mums!”
“Hell no!,” was my reply (more or less). Aside from a visceral hatred of these plants that has been simmering for years, I honestly don’t know what there is to say about them. Despite lies to the contrary, they are not perennial in my zone, no matter how much mulch you pile on top of them. As for the annual use of the plants, unlike even the most anemic petunia, they just kind of sit there. Nothing grows, just dies, gradually, as the blooms on each plant go brown in their turn. A big mound of smelly, unsatisfactory flowers that have to be constantly pinched. Ok, then, florist’s mums. Gorgeous blooms, especially the spider variety, but the stiff, tall stems are all you end up looking at.
I know there’s something here, but I’ve yet to discover how to make the most of it. I actually like the look of the foliage on the garden mums, and the flower form is not unlike that of two plants I really love: dahlias and zinnias. Yet, they fall so very far short of these beautiful, useful plants. Mum defenders, come forth! Convince me! Why should I even begin to like them? I just don’t get it. I’d rather go out into the fields and gather wild goldenrod, pokeweed, and dried-on-the-stalk Russian sage than bring a mum into the house.