Phipps exhibit showcases the traditional fall flower
The National Chrysanthemum Society credits an unknown Chinese philosopher with these words of advice: ‘If you would be happy for a lifetime, grow chrysanthemums.’
It would seem logical, then, that if you want to be happy for a couple of hours, you should visit chrysanthemums. While the gardeners at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens don’t profess to be philosophers, they do know a lot about chrysanthemums.
Phipps will unveil its display of the traditional fall flower – along with some other blooms, grasses and a garden railroad – at ‘Rhapsody in Bloom,’ its annual seasonal flower show, which opens Saturday at the Schenley Park conservatory.
Show designer Bob Vukich says the fall display is ‘the most glorious show of the year. We put plants everywhere. They just surround you and envelop you.’ More than 80 varieties of mums, including some new ones not typically grown in gardens, will be featured.
‘My favorite is the spider or fuji variety,’ Vukich says. ‘Each florette is shaped like a skinny tube. They are very graceful.’
Another chrysanthemum in the spotlight is Houston, with its bright yellow blooms. ‘Each one is the size of a person’s head. This year, we’re featuring Houston in a big way,’ Vukich says, with several hundreds of the plants showcased in Phipps’ Palm Court and Sunken Garden.
Also in the Palm Court will be 6-foot-tall majestic columns of white mums, which are the result of the staff’s experiments with training the plants to grow in any direction to conform to a frame.
‘I asked our supplier to grow 550 cascade types in a dozen colors,’ he says. ‘They will grow up or down on a frame. Very few flowering plants have that form. It allows us to provide a lush effect.’
Another highlight of the fall show is in the Gallery, where the Pittsburgh chapter of Ikebana International will display examples of Japanese flower arrangements. Five schools of Ikebana will be featured. The organization has been a part of Phipps’ shows since the early 1950s, Vukich says. ‘But this year,’ he says, ‘we decided to give them the whole room and let them go crazy and have fun!’
Accenting the arrangements will be some unusual varieties of show mums, including Forth Worth, Vegas Showgirl and Flyaway.
Ellen Speicher, head of horticulture at Phipps, says visitors will enjoy seeing the new varieties of mums. A favorite of hers is Angel, an anemone with a lavender center and rays of white florettes. It can be seen in the Palm Court. Another unusual variety is Yellow Vesuvio, which features ray florettes that ‘look like little fireworks.’ Look for them in the Sunken Garden.
There’s also a green mum, appropriately named Greenbay, that is shaded yellow-green and ‘is actually very pretty,’ Speicher says. It can be found in the East Room.
Visitors can see an example of each variety of mum used in the show in the Fruit and Spice Room, where a sample plant display will be featured.
‘This year, we did some things differently,’ Speicher says. Staff members used ornamental grasses and annuals such as celosia (coxcomb) to complement the chrysanthemums in different settings.
Probably the biggest challenge for gardeners in this show was to create the scenery for the garden railroad, which is made up of three G-scale model trains – a passenger train, coal train and freight train – that run through a 1,250-square-foot simulated western Pennsylvania landscape in the South Conservatory.
Wooded hills, ridge tops, tunnels and bridges are the backdrop for the train layout. Several varieties of reddish-bronze coleus were used to represent conifers and deciduous trees. Calenchoe simulated cabbages in the farmer’s garden. Thyme, moss, sedum and ferns also were designed and planted to scale to depict the region’s landscape.
‘It was fun looking for plants to mimic vegetables,’ she says. ‘We also used alternanthera, commonly known as Joseph’s coat, to mimic trees and shrubs. We have quite a large mountain that rivals the European peak we had last year.’ There are also streams, a pond, a coal tipple, pasture and reservoir in the display.
Aside from the railroad display, very few props will be used in the fall flower show.
‘The Garden Railroad is such a huge project to install,’ Vukich says. ‘And the plants are so beautiful by themselves that we didn’t need to jazz them up with props.
‘A lot of work goes into this show. I think it’s the best time of year to be at Phipps.’
The chrysanthemum was first cultivated in China as a flowering herb and is described in writings as early as the 15th century B.C. In fact, early Chinese pottery depicted the chrysanthemum much as we know it today. As an herb, it was believed to have the power of life. Legend has it that the boiled roots were used as a headache remedy. Young sprouts and petals were eaten in salads, and leaves were brewed for a festive drink.
After the chrysanthemum’s introduction into the United States during Colonial times, its popularity grew to the point that mums are the most widely grown potted plant in the country and are one of the longest lasting of all cut flowers.
In the United States, the chrysanthemum is the largest commercially produced flower because of its ease of cultivation, ability to bloom on schedule, diversity of bloom forms and colors, and holding quality of the blooms.
In an interesting contrast to the positive feelings many Americans have for the chrysanthemum – they’re commonly used in football game corsages, housewarming presents and get-well arrangements – in many European countries, the chrysanthemum is known as the death flower. In countries such as Belgium and Austria, the chrysanthemum is used almost exclusively as a memorial on graves.
Source: The National Chrysanthemum Society