Crisp fall days bring back memories of big fat mums. As round as tennis balls, these “football mums” were de rigueur for homecoming games. A single flower could be an eye-popping corsage.
Mums also remind us of simple rituals such as the slowly opening flower in a cup of chrysanthemum tea. They bring a little bit of peace and contemplation.
Those nostalgic giants and delicate beauties, plus many other mums, will be on display this weekend during the 66th annual Sacramento Chrysanthemum Show and Sale at Shepard Garden and Arts Center in McKinley Park. Always among the highlights on the fall flower schedule, this popular show features hundreds of mums in their many forms and shapes.
That is, if the mums cooperate. While almost everything else seemed to be early this weird weather year, the mums are running late.
“Everybody’s saying they don’t have anything (for the show),” said past president Martha Hackett as she readied for the event last week. “We’re all sweating it. ... I see a lot of tight buds but they’re not open. I’m hoping the nice warm weather will coax them out.”
Mums prefer mild weather, which should have made chrysanthemum fans very happy in October. Instead, green buds tended to stay that way.
Hackett points to our early July heat wave as the culprit. It struck right as this season’s mums were being pinched back in anticipation of fall blooms.
“July had all those days over 100 (degrees),” Hackett said. “It really hurt us. We’re having wonderful weather right now, but July set the plants all back. They don’t grow when it’s that hot.”
Hackett remains hopeful that the Sacramento show still will be stunning, as usual. The event attracts entries from throughout Northern California.
Along with spectacular individual flowers, the show features flower arrangements. The public will be the judge.
“This year’s show theme is ‘Reflections of Beauty,’” said Jeffrey MacDonald, a top grower and club member. “All the floral designs will have either ‘reflection’ or ‘beauty’ in their titles.”
Some examples: “Water Reflection” (a design showing water), “Beauty of the Far East” (an Asian-style design) and “Beauty of Small Things” (a miniature design).
One category will be a challenge: “Beauty of Bugs.” Members will create mum flower arrangements that look like insects.
“It should be fun,” MacDonald said. “The public is asked again to vote for the best designs (today). They get to pick the winners (with) ribbons awarded on Sunday. All voters will be entered in a drawing for 10 free (mum) cuttings in the spring at our sale.”
Patrons also can take some mums home, but come early or late.
“We will have the popular cut flower and plant market, which sells out fast,” MacDonald said. “At the end of the show (Sunday), we will sell many of the remaining flowers.”
Making mum tea
Some of those leftover mums may find their way into chrysanthemum tea. Author and radio host Sharon Asakawa makes mum tea as an annual celebration of fall.
“It’s a wonderful tea,” she said. “It’s a friendship tea. It’s always special to make for friends. I just fell in love with it.”
Asakawa’s new book is “California Getting Started Garden Guide: Grow the Best Flowers, Shrubs, Trees, Vines and Groundcovers” (Cool Springs Press, $24.99, 240 pages), co-authored by husband and longtime nurseryman Bruce Asakawa. Sharon co-hosts the national radio gardening show, “GardenLife,” heard live at 8 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays via KPAY 1290 AM in Chico or online at www.gardenlife.com.
The Asakawas published their first California Garden Guide a dozen years ago. Since then, a lot has changed for our state’s gardeners.
“One of the main things: water usage,” Sharon said. “We’re all much more aware of drought and water use. Now, we all want plants that are water-thrifty as well as attractive and (free-flowering).
“The other major change: Landscaping with fires in mind,” she added, noting the book has new references for defensible space (particularly essential in areas with high risk of wildfire). “A lot of homeowners want that practical information. It can save your home.”
Mums are one of her favorite fall flowers. She harvests some of her mums for use later in tea.
“You can find dried mums in Asian specialty stores,” she said. “Or you can dehydrate your own. Make sure they’re pesticide-free. The smallest ones tend to have the best flavor and look good in the cup; I like the button mums or cascading mums.
“Spread the flowers in a single layer on a cookie sheet and dry them in a 200-degree oven for several hours or use a dehydrator. Once they’re dry, put them in a freezer bag so they’re ready to use.”
Asakawa also uses home-grown persimmons, sliced and dried, for tea. Every ingredient serves as a symbol. Dates symbolize wealth; cherries mean power; dried orange peel, a wish for good fortune.
Here’s her recipe:
“In a pot, place one dried sliced seedless date. Add two or three seedless dried cherries, two or three pieces of dried orange peel and a piece of dried persimmon.
“Add tea to taste; black, green or white tea – whatever you prefer, but white is prettiest. Add boiling water and let it steep three to five minutes.
“Set the dried mum flower in the cup and add the tea slowly,” she said. “After it hydrates, the flower opens up. It looks perfect in the tea cup.
“It’s so good, especially in winter months,” Asakawa added. “Your friends will love you for it.”