By Erin Negley/LNP | LancasterOnline
This story is published in partnership with our sister newsroom LNP | LancasterOnline.
The star of Longwood Gardens’ Chrysanthemum Festival has canceled at the last minute for the past two years.
Just like Bruce Springsteen or Luke Bryan, the 1,000-bloom chrysanthemum was too sick to go on stage.
A lot can go awry when growing largest chrysanthemum outside of Asia. Yet next week, the mega mum should take its place in the spotlight.
The largest mum is one of more than 5,000 in the garden’s annual festival celebrating the fall flower. And while none are as demanding, it still takes 18 months for so many mums to bloom at the right time.
“Hands down, chrysanthemum festival is the hardest thing we have to do,” says Jim Sutton, Longwood’s associate director of display design.
The 42nd Chrysanthemum Festival has giant yellow spider mums, mums resembling daisies, mums that look like a bad hair day and a lot more. There are also living sculptures with mums trained into forms like spirals, trees, clouds and pagodas. The show continues through Nov. 12.
The annual festival’s rooted in Longwood’s collection of chrysanthemums. With more than 180 cultivars, it’s one of the largest collections in the country.
Even a sizable collection can’t escape the diseases that plague chrysanthemums. When Sutton designs the indoor displays, he selects mums that are virus-free and makes sure to include all 13 classes set by the National Chrysanthemum Society. This year, more than 30 cultivars bloom throughout the conservatory. To keep things bright through the seven-week shows, fresh plants replace the starting lineup.
One of the largest chrysanthemum creations is the curtain framing the music room. It’s made of fiery chrysanthemum and morifolium ‘Yosun City’ Point Pelee mixed with bronze-leaved toffee twist sedge framing neon green pothos. The patchwork of plants form a seamless tall “curtain.” If you had X-ray vision, you’d see a system of troughs supporting hundreds of plant pots, none larger than 6 inches.
Many of the mums are trained into forms. The pagodas, for example, have eight levels of yellow mums growing from a central branch. Artemesia provides the structure onto which mums are grafted. The plant’s a great candidate with its straight trunk and strong lateral branches, Sutton says. However, artemisia is an annual plant and when it’s time to fade, that can kill the mums. Luckily, four survived and are on display.
What: Longwood Gardens’ conservatory has chrysanthemums and many other plants on display.
Where: Longwood Gardens, 1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square.
When: The festival ends Nov. 12. The gardens are open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily but are closed on Tuesdays. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, the site closes at 9 p.m. through Oct. 28.
Cost: Tickets are $25 for adults.
The most complicated chrysanthemum, the thousand-bloom showpiece, is doing well after its predecessors succumbed to disease and climatic issues, Sutton says.
There are few types of mums able to withstand such training. The cycles of wilting and watering to position the buds is especially stressful, he says. The team studied the large mums that didn’t make it, looking at soil, plant tissue and nutrition, and will try again.
Also not to miss at Longwood
While at Longwood Gardens this fall, here are five things not to miss.
- Mums are the star of the conservatory. They’re also part of the seasonal display along Flower Garden Walk, at least until spring bulbs are planted. The grid of thousands of bulbs is a sight, even before planting.
- Don’t miss the squash-filled spires in the center of the rose arbor. They’re the biggest pumpkin stacks around, accented by purple hyssop and fire sticks succulents.
- Fall plants like asters and winterberry holly are blooming in South Wood’s Edge. Most of the meadow’s has been cleared but the meadow edge still has lively plants.
- When it was installed in 2010, the green wall surrounded the conservatory restrooms was the largest in North America. It no longer has the green crown but the curving living wall is still worth a look.
- The walls are down at the front of conservatory, giving you a glimpse at the $250 million expansion, slated to open next fall.