Here's a guest post from James Roush, who hates mums as much or maybe even more than I do. James's blog is Garden Musings.—Eliz.
My muse for today's blog is a coworker and friend who's also a new homeowner. She's faced with the dilemma of all non-gardeners who 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. As a result, 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 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, 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 they’re dead stems that break with the first snowfall. To add insult to injury, although mums are perennials elsewhere, they're really annuals in Kansas, weakening in—at most—a year or two thanks to the dry hot Kansas summers and drier cold Flint Hills winters. I'd 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 plants sell best in what people think of as fall colors, 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—a stone's throw from the KSU football stadium. Luckily these were just planted; I'm betting (hoping) they don't survive till next year.
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.