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Chrysanthemums Appeared in Fall Flower Shows by the early 1880s

This is fall and time to enjoy the glorious flower called Chrysanthemum or simply ‘mum’.

Recently I received some photos from a California garden where Chrysanthemums took center stage. Here is one of the photos:


California mums
Mums in red, yellow and white fill this Caifornia garden. [Courtesy of Cathy Glynn-Milley]
After I received the digital photos, I put my researcher cap on to explore when the Chrysanthemum became such a popular flower for the American gardener.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) listed five Chrysanthemum varieties in his seed catalog of 1873 under the heading ‘Miscellaneous Flowers’ which he described in these words: “The following list embraces a class of flowers not very popular, but occasionally called for of which we keep a small stock.”

Since the Chrysanthemum was not popular at that time, it is easy to understand why he offered so few varieties   Things would change however in just a few years.

In the mid 1880s the Massachusetts Horticultural Society sponsored exhibits for this flower at its annual Flower Show and offered premiums for the best displays.  In February 1885 Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan wrote in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly, “The meeting [of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society] on December 14th [1884], though including the usual range of exhibits, was emphatically the Chrysanthemum Show”.

In the same article  he wrote that at that Show, “Colonel [Marshall P.] Wilder ‘s collection numbered fifty-four”.  Marshall Wilder [1798-1886] emerged as a key figure in American pomology during the mid-nineteenth century and a major supporter of agricultural education.  He once served as President of the Massachusettts Horticultural Society. Wilder grew apples and pears in his Dorchester, Massachusetts orchard but evidently many Chrysanthemums as well.

Another article from 1885 in that same issue of Meehan’s magazine said, “I wish I could describe to you, so you could realize how charming the flowers (Chrysanthemums) are, the newspaper reports are so cold and meagre.”

Then Meehan concludes that  “Chrysanthemums are now indispensable for autumn decoration of the flower garden.”

Vick’s sons included an article on Chrysanthemums in the 1887 edition of the company magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly.  The article said, “So much has been written or said about Chrysanthemums and their culture that there is but little new left to say. All love them and many cultivate them in profusion. One lady of our acquaintance has in her collection some thirty kinds.”

Thus by the mid 1880s leading horticulturalists as well the seed and nursery trade in America encouraged growing the popular Chrysanthemum.

Today you can find this plant in dozens of pots at nurseries and garden centers as well as at box stores  around the country.

Below  is another recent image from that same California garden with a variety of Chrysanthemums.


California mums
Mums brighten up this California garden. [Courtesy of Cathy Glynn-Milley]
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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Very interesting! I had no idea that mums went from near-obscurity to great popularity in such a short time here in the US. Old seed catalogs are so fascinating. I’ve been looking at Iowa ones while researching a book I hope to write about Iowa garden history (a wholly neglected subject, I’ll assert). I have been looking through paper records of the Henry Field Seed Company, which are archived here in Iowa City, as well as a number of catalogs from the late 19th and early 20th century, published in Iowa. Incredibly interesting. Thanks for the nice post! -Beth

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