A little flurry of colour right now wouldn’t go amiss. A blaze of pink or yellow to catch on the way out of the door will remind you that winter is not stealing everything. To say little of how pleased the pollinators will be that there’s still something to forage. It’s surprising, then, that Korean chrysanthemums are not more well known. If dahlias float your boat, let me introduce you to your next big love.
Korean or Chrysanthemum rubellum are the last of the gang to flower and they do so in quite wicked glory, starting in September and reaching to the end of this month, or even into December for certain varieties. They run the gamut from tasteful to screaming: blazing oranges and bronzes, palest salmons and shocking pinks, white and creams or bold yoke yellows, many of which are double, or semi-double flowers.
They first appeared in the UK around the end of the 19th century, but their big breeding period was in the 1930s and 40s when everyone went mad for them. These later-period chrysanths have that chocolate-box appeal, all pops and colour and pom-pom flowers. They make excellent cut flowers.
They are surprisingly hardy and weatherproof if given sunny, free-draining conditions. They will be happy in a big container, which makes them excellent for patios and balcony gardens. Once settled in, they will return year after year.
It’s not the cold over winter that bothers them, but the wet. If you are on anything other than sand or silt, dig in grit and well-rotted homemade compost to the planting hole.
But the rub is that you can’t have them right now; they are in flower and thus too complicated and costly to transport. Order them as plug plants to arrive in spring and plant out in May when their new roots are poking out and all frosts have passed. Pinch out the growing tip to get bushy growth, and water well until the plants are established (this is when you’ll start to see new growth).
They are easygoing sorts; a little staking and keeping an eye out for slugs is about all that is needed.
My favourites are the sweet-smelling ones – these tend to be weather hardy too and loved by bees. Varieties such as Cousin Joan in bright red with a yellow centre, Mrs Jessie Cooper in cerise pink is particularly tough , and EH Wilson, which starts flowering in October in palest cream.