When I was just a wee lad growing up in a small southern town the big event of fall was the annual mum show. That’s chrysanthemums for the flower challenged. Even if you don’t know what they are called you’ve all seen them – giant, gravity defying flowers made up of seemingly hundreds of petals all tightly gathered around a central stalk. All around town I would see these little wooden frames covered with plastic and ask what they were. “Mum beds,” my mother would tell me. She never invested the time in such activity – something about raising me, she said. As a result, I have no idea how hard it might be to culture such plants or what nurturing is required to make them respond with such flamboyant blooms.
Wandering around a mum show you are first struck with amazement over the variety – round ones, flat ones, spidery ones, big, small. Its as if the family of mums evolved in all directions at once, each seeking a unique set of characteristics to deal with its circumstances.
Although the displays of my youth seemed to triangulate on the single blossom, the one perfect example of the plant’s efforts, I’ve since learned that multiples are also cultivated to result in a sea of color instead of one single point.
As photographers experiment with alternate methods of composition, processing and display, mum gardeners expand their palette to more radical configurations and colors. Not sure what the average bee or hummingbird would think of some versions, though.
It’s pleasing to know that there are people willing to dedicate their time, energy and creativity to such short-lived displays. As a photographer I appreciate the different versions and their features – they give me new perspectives on flowers and push me to portray the gardener’s work in ways that do justice to their efforts.
But, I’m a traditionalist at heart for these showy flowers. The big, round, basic mum remains my favorite.