The humble ‘mum, stalwart of autumn’s cut flower trade, is a whole different thing when Japanese masters get hold of it. Each autumn, cities in Japan host Chrysanthemum Festivals to showcase the beauty of the flower and the skills of its master growers. This is highwire horticulture at its most dazzling. Perhaps the most impressive of all the displays is this amazing creation –
It’s called a Thousand-bloom chrysanthemum, or Ozukuri, and yes the ‘thousand’ blooms are growing on a single plant! If you could look under its skirts, you’d see just one centimetre-thick stem. That sounds hard enough, but the flowers must form concentric circles in a perfectly balanced dome, with only a single flower permitted on each stem.
How do they do it? A garden team at Longwood in Pennsylvania grows a thousand-bloom mum each year for its Chrysanthemum Festival:
In fact they grow two, so they can have a reserve sitting on the bench in case something goes wrong. And so much could! They describe how they do it here.
(We tour Longwood in the spring, as part of our East Coast USA itinerary, but perhaps we should head there in autumn so we can see what else they do with ‘mums?)
This is another class of the Japanese art – the trident form, in which a single plant is grown to produce just three superb flowers. Sounds simple enough, but the challenge is to train the flowers to be perfectly balanced, with the flower that forms the point of the triangle slightly taller than the other two. All three blooms should be the same size.
Single blooms, like these gorgeous yellow suns, are intensively pinched to remove all the side branches that naturally grow where each new leaf forms. Then, when a cluster of flowers starts to bloom at the top of the plant, the side buds are removed so that all the plant’s energy goes into producing that one single superb flower.
Other challenges include grafting many colours onto the same plant; or growing them to produce cascades of flower. The plants are displayed in specially constructed bamboo shelters that look unchanged from when the art first developed, in the Edo period. In fact, you can see chyrsanthemum displays in some of the great woodblock prints from this era.
The horticultural prowess on show in the chrysanthemum festivals is just one reason Graham Ross thinks autumn the best time to tour Japan. He’s heading there with a group in November to catch both ‘mums and maples at their peak. Have a closer look at the itinerary here.
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