Debra Prinzing

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Meet the new generation of mums

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

Seatons Toffee, a 'quill' form with deep bronze petals.

I have great memories of the giant yellow chrysanthemum corsage my dad bought me for a college homecoming when I was a little girl. That curly ball of petals was so unwieldy it was hard to keep from crushing it with my chin. To me, that mum didn’t even feel real – it was like something from a fantasy world of my dreams.

My relationship with mums hasn’t really changed much since then. I’ve always kept them at arm’s length, both in garden design and in floral arranging.

The only time mums registered on my radar in the past decade was the celebrated arrival of ‘Kermit’, a lime green mum with a button-like flower that gained a huge following for its zesty color and knack for looking good in a vase for up to two weeks. But what about other mums?

Lots to learn

'Yoko Ono' is a top pompom-style mum with that awesome green hue.

Any ambivalence I’ve had about mums changed for the positive after I met two leading mum experts at the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers annual symposium in Tulsa, Oklahoma earlier this month.

On one of the long bus rides, I sat with Ray Gray of King’s Mums, an Oregon City, Ore.-based grower of “exhibition, specialty and vintage chrysanthemum rooted cuttings.”

Ray shared a bit of the story behind how he and his wife Kim purchased King’s Mums in 2008. The Grays are longtime wholesale nursery owners who were looking for ways to diversify their crops. They learned from Janet Foss, another grower, that King’s Mums was for sale.

'Yodogimi' is a semi-double mum with dark red petals tipped in gold.

For more than 40 years, the King family operated a huge Chrysanthemum-growing operation in Central California. The business served the amateur gardener and professional grower with more than 200 cultivars of exhibition and spray mums, one of the largest sources in the U.S.

After buying the business, Ray and Kim in January 2009 moved this amazing collection to their small family farm in Oregon City. They are carrying on the tradition begun by the Kings while also implementing new technologies and growing methods.

'Two Tone Pink' has petite pink-purple petals with white tips.

Ray gave me a copy of the King’s Mum catalog and right away I started drooling over the cultivars between the covers. As a cut flower choice, the mum is superb. The palette leans toward the warm end of the color spectrum, which is very en voguewith today’s floral designers: bronze, gold, terra cotta, salmon, champagne, orange, crimson, pink-red, lime green, apricot, burgundy, and all sorts of luscious bi-colored petal combinations. And of course, there are also pastel, cream and white flowers.

'Senkyo Kenshin' is a dark bronze 'spider' form - magical!

I know this is probably all old news to people in the National Chrysanthemum Society, and to specialty cut flower growers and their floral design clients. But I found it thrilling to meet Ray and learn how he and Kim are keeping alive this important cut flower category. Yes, I started to fantasize about growing some of these blooms in my own garden.

Note to self: King’s Mums is open to the public each October. Located about 20 minutes south of Portland (Oregon City is the end of the historic Oregon Trail), you can visit during business hours and see these yummy flowers up close and personal.

A beautiful punch of color comes from mums filling the hoop house at Bear Creek Farm.

There is another reason why mums stayed on my mind at the ASCFG conference. After meeting Ray and flipping through the beautiful flowers in his catalog, I was stunned to walk into one of Vicki Stamback’s hoop houses at Bear Creek Farms to discover rows of these very mums I’d just seen in that catalog.

I have to confess, I was a bit antisocial while skipping out of the demonstration of releasing beneficial insects in the greenhouse. But I wasn’t the only one climbing between the shoulder-high rows of mums, taking photos of these really superb blooms and making sure to jot down the name of each. These flowers were impossible to ignore as you can see here.

The following day, I sat in on “The Comeback of the Mum,” a presentation by Chehalis, Wash., grower Janet Foss. I learned enough to become a confirmed mum fanatic. You can read a summary of her presentation at A Fresh Bouquet.

I’ve got to share the rest of these incredible specimens: