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November 2, 2010 > Pat Kite's Garden: Chrysanthemums now

Pat Kite's Garden: Chrysanthemums now

By Pat Kite

Both China and Japan have claimed the Chrysanthemum originated in their country. Japan's imperial emblem for at least a thousand years has included a chrysanthemum with 16 petals. But this flower's first home was in China, and Chinese legend tells one version of how it came to Japan. (Pat loves a good story.)

Once upon a time, a favorite astrologer told a very old Chinese emperor there was a magic herb that could restore his youth. It grew on Dragon-fly Island in the Sunrise Sea. However, only young people could gather this magic herb. The Sunrise Sea was replete with sea-dragons and other monsters, but many volunteered to go. The emperor selected 12 brave young men and 12 young companion women. All was set, but then the emperor began to fret. If there were people living on Dragon-fly Island, they would demand something in exchange for the magic herb. So the emperor sent bamboo baskets full of China's floral treasure-golden Chrysanthemums.
Despite fearsome storms and many horrible monsters, the 12 young couples reached Dragon-fly Island (i.e. Japan) in safety. But they found no magic herb. The thought of the voyage back home frightened them, as did returning without their herbal goal. So they stayed on the uninhabited island, had families, and built an empire. Their only link with their Chinese homeland was the Chrysanthemums, and they tended them carefully.

And so, according to legend, this is how the Chrysanthemum came from China to Japan. There are at now at least 160 Chrysanthemum species, some with small one-inch flowers, others as big as 12-inch dinner plates. Fancy monikers abound: Crimson Glory, Apricot Moneymaker, Blushing Christine, Cottonball, Green Satin, Yellow Nob Hill, etc. There are even bonsai Chrysanthemums such as Kotoi No Kaori.
If you want more information, you can Google the National Chrysanthemum Society, or write to NCS, 10107 Homar Pond Drive, Fairfax Station, VA 22039-1650. Membership is only $20 a year and includes a Beginners Handbook and a quarterly journal.

How do you grow Chrysanthemums? Well, I just bought a nice pot of bronze ones to set on my kitchen counter. Flowers cheer up rainy weather. After they have tired out, cut off the demised flowers leaving stems about seven inches long. Gently remove from the container and separate any individual clumps. Plant in a sunny area that gets regular water and with luck, they will bloom again about this time next year.

In the Victorian language of flowers, the Chrysanthemum means cheerfulness and optimism. Red flowers mean "I love;" yellow means "Slighted Love;" white equals "Truth." Buy one of each color, and then some. Flowers make a winter day just a smidge brighter.

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