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the seasonality of chrysanthemums

A few days out from the official start of fall, it seems like everyone in our neighborhood—everyone but us—has potted chrysanthemums adorning their front porches. Lot of them! Like they must have been on sale somewhere. Since I'm a contrary old cuss, I have some thoughts.

Now don't get me wrong, mums are lovely. We have a few in our garden, and I love the half-wild ones along the side of the bike path. They're a great sign of early fall; it's so wonderful to see flowers starting to bloom just as most of the others are fading away. The coppery and deep red ones in particular are great fall colors too. But!

Never mind how sad I find it when people buy perennials in pots—daffodils or tulips or easter lillies or mums—and then toss them when their "season" is over. That's their prerogative, and if I don't like it I can just grab the cast-off plants to put in the ground myself (I have, too!). But when you have these plants, forced and trimmed to within an inch of their lives, signifying fall... it just doesn't make sense! They're all greenhouse-grown; they could just have well been forced for any other time of year. And worse, the same way you get mums you could just as well have, oh, I don't know, petunias! That is to say, there's no horticultural reason for people to be buying mums—they're just doing it because that's what one does in the fall.

It's like the plastic pumpkins that have started to move from basements to front lawns over the past couple weeks. Why are pumpkins a sign of fall? Because they don't ripen until well into the fall, when everything else is dying. So it maybe doesn't make so much sense to put them out in early September when the sweet corn and summer squash and tomatoes are still going strong. There's nothing wrong with early pumpkins—either plastic or genuine—but their connection with the season is artificial and so less meaningful and interesting.

And that's true of so many things. We celebrate the turning seasons, but we're completely insulated from any real affects as they change. Our homes are heated and cooled to the same temperature all year round; our jobs are completely season- and weather-independent; we can eat watermelon and peas and raspberries all year round. So I guess it makes sense that we need to resort to artificial means to bring back some sense of seasonality. For sure, I agree that seasons are great! And to appreciate them even more, I suggest some slightly more intensive gardening: toss those potted mums into a hole and water them a little until it freezes, and they'll come back next year—at just the right time to celebrate the fall!

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