It’s not that I really hate mums. I do dislike the common ones sold in the big boxes—the stiff form, the premature browning, and the fact that there’s more of a stench than a fragrance. But it’s not just the flowers themselves—it’s what they represent. At their worst, mums symbolize everything I hate about conventional fall gardening wisdom.
First, there’s the “clean-up.” I wonder if it’s only in American that we’re so obsessed with always cleaning up our gardens. Leaves have to be swept up, sucked up, or blown away almost as soon as they fall. Perennials are chopped to the ground. And perfectly good containers of summer-blooming annuals are replaced with mums or ill-conceived arrangements of soggy cornstalks and rancid hay.
Even if I wanted to plant such late season annuals as there are, my containers are needed for more important purposes. By early November, all of them are fully planted with tulip bulbs and stashed in the garage, where they’ll stay until late March/early April.
As for clean-up, my idea of clean-up is to cut down and compost only that which is thoroughly dead, inarguably hideous, and seems unlikely to dissolve into the ground under its own power (like phlox, for example). Otherwise, I find that whatever I leave will be a lot smaller and easier to get rid of in spring.
With the first killing frost fast approaching, the containers I planted in May still have plenty of color and life left in them. Rather than replace their contents with mums, I’d rather focus on bulbs and enjoy mums as they should be enjoyed—at the botanical garden’s annual show. Fall is a beautiful season here—too beautiful to waste cleaning up.