"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag

Midwinter Mums (2 of 6)

From “Sentiments at Autumn: Eleven Poems” by Han Yu in Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry, edited by Wu-Chi Liu and Irving Yucheng Lo:

Chrysanthemum fresh in the frost
what use your beauty so late?
Butterfly cheerful in the fragrance,
your life neither comes too early,
at cycle’s end you both meet
your youth and grace intact till death

Western wind, snakes and dragons hibernate,
all the trees with days’ advance fade and dry
Such are the parts destined by fate….

From “Chrysanthemums” in The Story of Flowers and How They Changed the Way We Live by Noel Kingsbury:

“Chrysanthemum fashions have come and gone for thousands of years. The flower has been cultivated in China for more than 3,000 years, referred to in early records usually as yellow, the colour of certain wild species. They stood out because they bloomed in autumn, after the heat of the summer, and this is one reason for their popularity ever since….

“By the time of the Qin dynasty (221–207 BC) in China there were almost certainly several varieties, since there was a grand market for chrysanthemum sales in the capital, while poets in succeeding dynasties wrote often in its praise. Doubles, a range of colours and multi-hued flowers appeared during the Song dynasty (AD 960–1279), with 400 varieties by 1458, when the first book on the flower was published.

“In Japan, the chrysanthemum took off as a national symbol in the early thirteenth century when Emperor Go-Toba started using one as his personal symbol; other emperors followed, and late in the century it became the royal family’s official symbol. During the Edo period many new varieties were produced and new growing techniques developed, often involving detailed pruning and tying to elaborate frames to shape the plants into pyramids, miniature trees or cascades, or encourage one huge, perfect flower. The latter technique was taken up widely after the plant was introduced to the West in the 1830s.”

From “Chrysanthemums” in Shoes of the Wind: A Book of Poems  by Hilda Conkling:

Dusky red chrysanthemums out of Japan,
With silver-backed petals like armor,
Tell me what you think sometimes?
You have fiery pink in you too…
You all mean loveliness:
You say a word
Of joy.
You come from gardens unknown
Where the sun rises…
You bow your heads to merry little breezes
That run by like fairies of happiness;
You love the wind and woody vines
That outline the forest…
You love brooks and clouds…
Your thoughts are better than my thoughts
When the moon is getting high!


This is the second of six posts (that’s a lot!) featuring several varieties of mums from Oakland Cemetery’s gardens. The first post is Midwinter Mums (1 of 6).

Here we have red, red, red ones — blooms from several garden locations that exhibited mostly pure red rather than the red/pink/magenta I described in the previous post. It may be noteworthy that when magenta is absent, the flower petals take on a barely perceptible orange hue when lit by the sun.

Thanks for taking a look!

Midwinter Mums (1 of 6)

From “Chrysanthemum (Asteraceae)” in Garden Flora: The Natural and Cultural History of the Plants In Your Garden by Noel Kingsbury:

“One of the world’s most successful commercial flowers, there seems justice in the plant’s name being derived from the Greek for ‘golden flower.’ Once larger, Chrysanthemum is now a much-reduced genus, with around 30 familiar herbaceous or subshrubby species recognised from eastern Europe across to the Far East. Polyploidy and hybridisation are common, so the origin and classification of this and related genera is still in flux….

“Chrysanthemum species are generally long-lived and often clump-forming. Some have persistent semi-woody growth, but others tend to die out in patches. Generally they are from woodland edge habitats, although several are common along seashores in Japan. Species are found in a number of climate zones, with many of those which have contributed to the cultivated gene pool from the Far Eastern humid subtropical zone….

“The Japanese emperor Gotoba (1183–1198) particularly liked the flower and started using a chrysanthemum graphic as his own personal symbol. Other emperors followed suit, and in the late 13th century it became the official royal family symbol. Today, in English-speaking countries, the Japanese ruling institution is sometimes referred to as the Chrysanthemum Throne. In the East, chrysanthemums have tended to be symbolic of long life, which is perhaps another reason for the popularity of chrysanthemum tea; in the West, however, they became a funeral flower during the course of the 19th century and so were frequently, superstitiously excluded from the home, even being seen as a curse in Italy.”

From “The Chrysanthemum” by William Carlos Williams in The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, (Vol. II), edited by Christopher MacGowan: 

how shall we tell
the bright petals
from the sun in the
sky concentrically

crowding the branch
save that it yields
in its modesty
to that splendor?


Toward the end of November through mid-December of 2023, I encountered some fabulous batches of many-colored mums at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens — but then got wrapped up in my Christmas project and am just getting to those photos now. I suppose technically these are “autumn mums” — but you know I like my alliterations, so I went with “Midwinter Mums” as the post title for this series.

For the first photos in this series, I selected those that had an unusual combination of colors. These mums at first glance appear red — as red is the most dominant color — yet among the red blooms there are quite a few, even from the same multi-bloom stem, that exhibited a distinct color variation that included magenta or pink. On some individual blooms, half the petals were red and half were red and magenta, or magenta appeared toward the center then gradually radiated to red. At first I just thought is was a trick of the light (you know how tricky light can be) and started shifting the magenta toward red in Lightroom — but then set them all back to keep the color variations intact. The first two photos below show how large this group of mums was; and you can see in those photos how magenta appears randomly throughout the cluster.

Thanks for taking a look!

Gaillardia: The Blanket Flower or Firewheel

From “Gaillardia (Blanket Flower)” in The English Flower Garden by William Robinson:

Gaillardia (Blanket Flower): Handsome perennial and biennial herbs including some of the showiest flowers, valuable for their long duration both on the plants and in a cut state. The genus numbers some half a dozen across, the ray florets having an outer zone of orange-yellow and an inner one of brownish-red, while the centre is deep bluish-purple. It is the commonest kind, and having been raised largely from seed, has many varieties, differing more or less widely from the type, with various names….

G. picta somewhat resembles G. aristata, but has smaller flowers, and is a biennial. It is dwarfer, and its flowers are brighter. G. amblyodon is a beautiful Texan annual, introduced a few years ago. Its flowers are even smaller than those of G. picta, and are of a deep cinnabar red.

“Gaillardias in many soils soon exhaust themselves by their flowering, and should be renewed periodically from seed, the seedlings being most vigorous and free…. All thrive in good friable garden soil, but not on a cold stiff soil or on one that is too light or dry. Where possible they should be grown in bold groups, for they thrive better if so placed than as solitary plants in a parched border, and no plants have a finer effect in a bed by themselves….”

From “Gaillardia” in Flowers and Their Histories by Alice M. Coats:

“The gaillardias, in spite of their French name (after M. Gaillard de Marentonneau, a patron of botany), are natives of North America, whence we have received so many yellow-rayed compositesCoreopses, Heleniums, Rudbeckias, Heliopses, Sunflowers and Goldenrods — that we might be justified in believing that continent to be paved with gold. The gaillardias, however, mix their gold with blood, and Willa Cather speaks of Nebraskan pastures where one of the species ‘matted over the ground with the deep velvety red that is in Bokhara carpets‘….

“The three kinds most usually met with in gardens are the red and yellow
G. pulcella (syn. G. bicolor, 1787), perennial although usually treated as an annual, and parent of many garden varieties; the perennial yellow G. aristata, sent by [David] Douglas from the Rocky Mountains about 1826; and G. amblyodon, a red annual from Texas and New Mexico, collected by [Ferdinand] Lindheimer in 1844 and again by [Thomas] Drummond the following year. The name of Blanket Flower was probably given to G. pulcella on account of its grey woolly leaves; but the flower might very well recall the gay colours and zig-zag patterns of the Indian blankets of its native land, and one of the garden varieties is aptly named Indian Chief….”

From “Another Autumn” in How Far Light Must Travel: Poems  by Judi K. Beach:

Now another autumn holds what warmth it can
for as long as possible, as I want to hold onto him
to keep winter away. Last night the hard frost
picked the last delphinium, and the final pair
of gaillardia probably will not respond
to the warm breath of day. Every garden row
is raised in a brown silhouette. Today
orange blazes everywhere….


On the same trip to Oakland Cemetery’s gardens where I discovered the Cosmos flowers that I wrote about previously (see Discovering Cosmos), I also found another plant that I had never seen before. The red and yellow-tipped flowers below are Gaillardia variants; most likely, I think, Gaillardia pulchella — which is known by several other common names (including “Blanket Flower”), but my favorite is the very descriptive name “Firewheel.”

From the book excerpts at the top of this post, you can learn a little about the characteristics of this plant, its history, and its distribution. When I was processing these photos in Lightroom, I originally thought the blue highlights that you can see in some of the flowers’ centers were artifacts, possibly even a reflection off the blue coat I was wearing, so I removed the blue color. Then I saw the description from The English Flower Garden — “the centre is deep bluish-purple” — and I put the blue highlights back!

Thanks for taking a look!

Discovering Cosmos

From “Cosmos” in The English Flower Garden by William Robinson:

“Cosmos: Mexican plants allied to the Dahlia….

C. bipinnatus is a handsome annual, 3 feet to 5 feet high, having finely-divided, feathery foliage, and large Dahlia-like bright red-purple blossoms, with yellow centres. It is best raised a tender annual by sowing the seeds in February or March in a heated frame, and transplanting in May in good, rich soil with a warm exposure….

“It flowers from August to October, is good for grouping with bold and graceful annuals. There are now varieties rose, white, purple, and orange.
C. atropurpurea, called the ‘Black Dahlia,’ is a handsome plant with nearly black flowers, thriving in ordinary soil.”

From “All Around the World” in The Origin of Plants by Maggie-Campbell Culver:

“From Mexico in 1799 came two near relations of the Dahlia: Cosmos bipinnatus (with leaves arranged like a feather) and C. sulphureus…. The seed had first arrived in Spain, and as with the Zinnia had been sent to England by the Marchioness of Bute. A further pair crossed the Atlantic in 1835, C. diversifolius and one that shows how simple it is for plants to drift away out of fashion and out of nursery catalogues unless they are continually loved and nurtured: C. atrosanguineus, the deliciously chocolate-scented dark maroon annual from Mexico….

“The seed was received in 1835 by William Thompson (1823-1903), who had earlier founded a nursery at Ipswich (which later became the world-famous firm of Thompson and Morgan). The plant made an immediate impact, with its dramatic deep maroon colour, and was widely grown, but despite being admired — and commented on by such plantsmen as E. A. Bowles (1865-1954) — and receiving an RHS Award of Merit in 1938, it fell out of favour. It was only at the very end of the twentieth century that it was ‘rescued’ and recovered its self-esteem to flourish again in our English gardens.”

From “The Cosmos Flower” by Kishiko Wakayama in An Anthology of Japanese Poems, translated by Asataro Miyamori:

Oh, that I,
     In my demeanour,
Might be like the modest single-petalled
     Cosmos flower!


Here we have nineteen photos of three varieties of an annual flowering plant called Cosmos, which I stumbled upon while photographing zinnias and asters this fall at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens. It fascinates me that despite making so many photo-trips to these gardens over several years now, there are still discoveries to be made — as I’d never seen these Cosmos before, yet they were just a few feet from spots I’ve stomped around in repeatedly.

There were only a handful of Cosmos plants blooming in a plot of short grass by themselves (so I photographed all of them), though empty stems nearby suggested I might have discovered them at the end of their flowering time. Having now learned a little about this plant, its history, and some of its varieties — briefly covered by the quotation from The Origin of Plants up-top — I’m curious about whether or not the “Black Dahlia” variant (Cosmos atrosanguineus, originally Cosmos atropurpurea) might have been blooming there earlier. I’ll have to try again next year, since the plants have done their late fall disappearing act (as plants do!) — but click here if you would like to see some images of the “Black Dahlia” Cosmos from around the web.

Cosmos is in the Aster family Asteraceae, and these have the typical composite structure of individual florets and tiny seeds. The white and orange varieties look like they’d already ejected seeds from their florets, leaving some of them to look like miniature flying buttresses. Whether those seeds generate another batch of Cosmos next year remains to be seen: it’s not unusual for plants considered annuals in the Southeast to behave more like perennials if we have a mild winter.

In the photos of the purple Cosmos and in the last three photos of the orange ones, you can see their thin, delicate stems and leaves, some as thin as pieces of string or as wispy as ferns — “feathery” as described in the quotations above. The slightest breeze — and some photo-bombing wasps hunting for pollen — sent the flowers bouncing like acrobats, delightful to watch but requiring some patience to photograph. And one of the wasps seemed to match its colors to the orange flowers — so I didn’t realize it was there until the very last stages of working on these photos. See if you can find it!

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Pink Painted Pyrethrum, or Persian Daisies (2 of 2)

From “Autumn Composites” in My Garden in Autumn and Winter by E. A. Bowles:

“It is about the third week in September that the Asters in the pergola garden are at their best, and if the Vines on the vine pergola are doing their duty that season and have coloured well, the contrasts of colour are beautiful on a sunny day. A row of the lovely rosy-pink Aster… crosses the front of one of the square beds, hiding up the plots of bare ground where the Daffodils reigned in the Spring. Though the colour of this delightful variety is charming at all times, it glows out with an extra charm just at sunset, and increases in beauty every minute until the light has faded almost away….”

From “Border Flowers: Pyrethrum” in Flowers and Their Histories by Alice M. Coats:

“From the early days of its cultivation it was known that this plant was a principal ingredient in the manufacture of Persian insect-powder; and its near relation, P. cinerarifolia, was used for the same purpose in Dalmatia. The powder is produced from the flower-heads, which are cut just as they are about to open, carefully dried, and pulverized; and Pyrethrum-powder as an insecticide has become of increasing importance in the present century. Pyrethrums are grown for this purpose in Kenya, and were considered a crop of the first priority during the last war, for their value in the control of insect pests and the prevention of typhus and other insect-spread diseases.

“The pyrethrums are closely related to the chrysanthemums…. The Greek name comes from
pyr, meaning fire, and was originally given to a plant with a hot, biting root…. The root of this plant was formerly used as a cure for toothache….”


This is the second of two posts featuring photos of Tanacetum coccineum — commonly known as Painted Daisies, Persian Daisies, or (once upon a time) Pyrethrum. The first post is Pink Painted Pyrethrum, or Persian Daisies (1 of 2).

When I took this batch of photos, the sun had slipped behind some thin clouds, keeping shadows intact yet darkening the scene just a bit. The added saturation made many of these flowers even pinker than the previous pink ones. And — check it out! — the last one is waving “Goodbye” to you!

Thanks for taking a look!