What’s in Bloom?
Hardy Chrysanthemums (Chrysanthemum x morifolium)
As those who have been keeping a close eye on Chinatown Park this growing season can attest to, once the impressive Azalea and Peony displays faded, there were relatively few plants that flowered into the summer. Save for some summer bloomers such as the Goldenrain Tree (Koelreuteria paniculata), the predominant ornamental plants were those with an interesting form: such as the Weeping Willow (Salix x babylonica ‘Niobe’) or Nude-sheathed Bamboo (Phyllostachys nuda)
As is the case with many Chinese Gardens, The Chinatown Park was originally designed with a greater emphasis on contrasting textures of plants rather than displaying a variety of flowering plants to provide color from early spring all the way into late fall.
Seeking to add some fall flower color to the Chinatown Park, the Conservancy staff turned to the Hardy Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum x morifolium). Originally native to eastern Asia, the Chrysanthemum is a fall flowering perennial growing approximately 1-3’ tall. The compact habit many of them possess is usually the result of frequent “pinching”, or cutting back the plant to the desired height throughout the growing season before the flower buds emerge. The diversity of flower sizes, colors, and shapes available is nearly endless due to years of selection and hybridization. The name “Hardy” may be a bit misleading, as these plants are typically only annuals, not surviving our New England winters. Some gardeners, however, will overwinter them by potting and storing them in a cold frame or cool basement then replanting them in the early spring.
In Mid-September, Conservancy Staff and Volunteers planted approximately 1,200 Chrysanthemums in Chinatown Park, following a design by current Conservancy Urban Horticulture Fellow Joshua Williams, a graduate of Temple University’s Landscape Architecture program. As this would be a compliment to the existing design rather than a redesign of the park, Josh strove to create a strong design, but also had to keep it simple given the limited amount of space. He eventually selected three varieties: ‘Glenda’ (a red-flowered cultivar), ‘Yellow Padre’, and ‘Orange Padre’ (flowering, as the names suggest, a bright yellow and a light orangey-bronze).
Culturally, much in the same vein as the Peony is considered a sign of spring in the Chinese Garden, The Chrysanthemum is seen as signaling the arrival of fall. Furthermore, the Chrysanthemum is seen as one of the “Four Men of Honor”, a group of plants traditionally believed to possess admirable human traits. The Chrysanthemum is believed to symbolize Modesty (the other three; Plum Blossom, Orchid, and Bamboo symbolize Braveness, Leisure, and Integrity, respectively).
The Chrysanthemum display certainly signals the arrival of fall, however, with the plant now entering their peak bloom, they seem to be taking a temporary respite from their modesty.