The chrysanthemums at Longwood Gardens grow long enough to cover 5-foot-wide umbrellas and full enough to fill 6-foot-tall teardrop-shaped hanging baskets.
To train the stars of the Chrysanthemum Festival, growers like Jason Simpson started the botanical boot camp way back in December.
The showpiece thousand-bloom chrysanthemum got its start even earlier, just around the beginning of the pandemic. Through the months when the gardens were closed to the public and staff were down to a skeleton crew, growers continued to tend to mums huge and small.
The 40th Chrysanthemum Festival has more than 5,000 mums grown and trained into a record number of forms, including shields and spirals plus clouds and cascades. The show continues through Nov. 14.
Simpson, senior grower, has grown chrysanthemums since he came to the Kennett Square site in 2004. First, he grew 2,000 to 3,000 pots of mums in the estate houses each year. Then he moved to cascade mums, about a dozen cultivars with small flowers and long trailing stems perfect to train in topiary forms.
He’s one of two growers focusing on the specialty forms, including hanging baskets, cascades wrapping columns and new shapes suggested by Longwood’s designers.
“That’s exciting to figure out how to get this plant to do some new thing that we’ve never done before,” Simpson says.