Hartley Magazine

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Chrysanthemums are a proper, old-fashioned allotment flower. The sort of plant your granddad grew in perfect rows in order to cut a neat bunch of flowers for your granny – if she was lucky – but more likely to compete with the other old boys on the allotment over who could grow the biggest, and the most perfect. This is my first year growing them. Perhaps I’ve avoided them because they seemed kind of old fashioned, but I won’t avoid them anymore. In fact I’ve come to love their old-fashioned stylings. A cut flower that is so beautifully suited to our conditions that allotment growers have been filling their plots with it for decades? Move over fancy, fussy lilies, Im with the old guys.

They have been pretty straightforward to grow: I sent off for the rooted cuttings in early
spring, then potted them up and kept them in the greenhouse for a bit. Ok, that bit sounds complicated, but from the time the frosts had passed onwards they’ve been a cinch. Planted out, and with a bamboo cane each for support, they have just minded their own business all summer long. I almost forgot about them, and then, as summer wore on the flower buds started to appear. Late September saw the first of them, I believe, and the latest blooming row of plants is still flowering now. They produce quite spectacularly at a time when everything else is fading away, blooming and filling vases with colour and life when everything else turning brown. They defy the weather and the oncoming winter.

The advice is to bring them in before the frosts, but they are tougher than that really, if you don’t mind taking a little risk. We’ve had a couple of frosts now and – while they’re not looking their best any more – they are really soldiering on. Most of them have a few blackened leaves but that’s it. Some are even still flowering and to dig them up too early would be to miss this late bounty. If you live in the south or a mild spot near the sea you can even leave them out all year, perhaps with a nice thick mulch protecting the stem. But these cost me more than a few pennies so I’m keen to protect them, and with cold weather on the way and rumours of a hard winter this year, it is time for them to come up out of the soil and to move into the greenhouse.

I dug them up, shook off the soil, and then cut them back to about 20cm. There were all
sorts of beasties clinging to the roots so I gave them a good dunk and wash in a bucket, as I don’t want to be dragging unknowns into the greenhouse. The worms looked grateful to be returned to the soil after their brief swim. Back home from the allotment, I put five of them to each large pot, and covered them loosely with fresh compost up to the level they had been planted at the allotment.

And here they will sit for the rest of the winter. I won’t water them much, until mid-spring,
when a little water combined with the lengthening days will start them into growth. I can then take cuttings to increase my lot for next year, before planting originals and new cuttings out once the frosts have passed (again, I won’t be too concerned about the odd light frost). This has been my first year growing chrysanthemums for cut flowers, but it won’t be my last. Colourful cut flowers until well after the first frosts are too good to miss.