Red carpet treatment



That’s what the National Trust for Historic Preservation will be getting in Buffalo this week when they roll in for their annual conference. That is, if the sight of thousands of red mums planted in selected Olmsted parks can be considered a luxurious welcome. I suspect most of these attendees will have their eyes trained on manmade wonders—about which I feel much more confident.

There were a few funny comments about this on one of the local blogs, like “Let's just hope we don't get another Madonna incident where it turns out somebody ‘loathes red mums.’” Another reader thought that the city should “be focused on pleasing the residents first and foremost,” not just when visitors arrive.

I wouldn’t say that I loathe red or any other color mums, but I do dislike these plants. The form and foliage of the common annual mums—such as those being planted in Buff—are stiff and unappealing. And let’s not forget their rather unpleasant scent.

This is not totally about aesthetics, though. I love zinnias and dahlias, which have similar flower forms to the superior mum varieties and don’t smell much better. What bothers me most about these plants is that they suddenly appear for sale everywhere in early September and by November they’re done—not that you’d want to linger outside to enjoy them anyway. It’s hard to think of any other plant that has such a short, depressing life cycle. I have plenty of annuals in my garden now that still look as good as—or better than—when I planted them in May. A geranium, for example, gives a far more enduring performance, with handsome foliage and a pleasant scent thrown in for free.

Still, anything en masse can look impressive—I’ll have to make a site visit to our new red carpet, and see if I can get a better shot than the one I’m using here (which I think is a stock photo). Before they’re all soggy and brown.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I have been thinking along the very same lines that I do not really find myself buying mums as their shape and mass color does not really appeal to me and such a short life cycle-like we are trying to cling to summer when we are on the doorstep of winter. Ironically, I found the photo you used very appealing-almost makes me want to go out and buy mums!

  2. Growing annuals requires labor, greenhouses (with their heating/cooling), water, chemicals, fertilizer, shadecloth, transportation, tags, containers, & more.

    All for a disposable product.

    Love self seeding annuals. None of the above applies. A bird gave me my first English daisy. The labor & transportation of Providence. Heating & cooling done by planet Earth. Zero planting required yet a fabulous show every spring.

    If a landscape design needs disposable annuals it’s a bad landscape design.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  3. Oh, see I love the smell of chrysanthemums ! And marigolds, too. Makes me re-consider my inherent aversion to annuals. Many of the traditional floral scents I find cloying & sickly sweet. Not something I want around for long. But I’ve been known to rub marigolds & mums against my skin trying to claim their scents for myself.

  4. When I tried to grow perennial mums, rabbits ate them.
    I was really annoyed recently as I observed a landscaping crew ripping out begonias or whatever disposable annual they had planted in front of a nearby office building. Would it really be that much more work to just maintain some perennials? There’s my (garden) rant for the day!

  5. I’m with you wholeheartedly on every reason why you don’t like mums. I am looking forward to seeing them all in bloom though. I hope the timing works out so they’re in bloom while the Trust Conference is going on! It was nice to see dozens and dozens of volunteers out planting them a couple weeks back.

  6. As a historic preservationist, I would like to point out that Olmsted would have HATED the mums. He generally didn’t like flowers, especially bedding flowers. If flowers were required, he planted those that he thought appeared “natural.”

    Funny that right before the Trust conference the parks decide to not follow preservation theory and plant a species that completely violates Olmsted’s original design intent. Poor Olmsted is probably spinning in his grave.

  7. I find it very satisfying to have ‘annual’ mums come back the next year – I love pinching them in June and early July to produce the same sort of perfect round shrub you can buy at the grocery store. Of course, they bloom later than the grocery store plants (greenhouse raised as they are) so I generally have to keep my fingers crossed that we don’t get a hard frost before I see any colour. This year – with no nights below zero forecast for the next two weeks – it looks like I’ll get a magnificent display.

  8. I just drew a comic about those mums that appear everywhere this time of year…
    I do get pretty tired of seeing mums in their thousands and thousands—all of a sudden. Then–poof–they’re gone.

  9. I know that I am very late commenting on this, and probably no one will read this, but these remarks have been haunting me ever since I first read them. What snobbery! In my suburban neighborhood, many people put pots of chrysanthemums on both sides of their front doors. Yes, they are common; yes, they are cheap, but they are also beautiful in their way. They echo the colors of the autumn leaves, which are also fleeting, and they are especially lovely when their buds are showing color but are not fully open.
    The fact that a plant can be bought at any supermarket does not make it worthless.

  10. Hi Debbie,

    I read your comment. My complain about these really has more to do with their short lifespan–shorter than almost any annual I know.

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