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Saugus gardens in the fall

Golden chrysanthemums bloom in a pot-2
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Here’s what’s blooming in town this week to make your walks more enjoyable

  The Veterans’ Park and other areas around town seem to be glowing in time for today’s Veterans Day ceremony, although new leaves continue to fall all the time. Fall foliage is far from over, although some of the brightest trees have lost their leaves. Silver maples (Acer saccharinum) and Norway maples (Acer platanoides) still have quite a display of golden leaves in their branches; many birches and poplars still have yellow leaves, too, and pears (Pyrus spp.) and some cherries (Prunus spp.) are still blazing with red and orange leaves. Black and red oaks (Quercus velutina and Quercus rubra, respectively) and white oaks (Quercus alba) can be quite colorful this week, although some have already turned brown.

  The flowers you see most often blooming in November are chrysanthemums (Chrysanthemum indicum and hybrids). I am often asked how to tell whether a mum is hardy or not, and it is really not easy to tell by looking, as there are many varieties in this species and their cold hardiness in our zone does vary. Often, they are advertised as annuals just to prevent complaints if the plants don’t make it through our winter. In fact, almost all the chrysanthemums I have planted in the ground have come back the following year, and some survive many winters.

  My favorite, the variety ‘Point Pelee’ – named for a site in Canada – is not advertised as a perennial, but it has survived two winters so far. They rarely look as good as the new ones from the nursery though, because commercially produced chrysanthemums are pinched back a few times during the growing season to ensure they are not too tall or floppy, and that nearly all the stems have blossoms on the top. This can be time consuming, and if it is not done the plants will have fewer blossoms and will be tall rather than bushy in appearance. Also, they prefer to have a few months of root development before winter sets in, so when they are plopped in the ground at the end of November their chances of survival are not as good as if they were planted in summer or early fall. They should be watered a couple of times a week like any new plant until the ground freezes.

  Chrysanthemums originated in China, and they have been cultivated for many centuries there. Chrysanthemum festivals are common in many parts of Asia and are sometimes held in the United States as well. Smith College in Northampton, Mass., has a chrysanthemum festival in which many unusual varieties are grown and shown off in their greenhouses. The horticulture students test their skills to grow fancy forms, such as spider mums, spoon mums and cascading plants. Our name for the plant comes from Greek words meaning “golden flower,” although blossoms may be many colors, including white, red, purple and orange as well as yellow and gold. Some forms might be considered “daisies” with a conspicuous yellow center of disc florets, while others have so many ray florets that there is no visible center at all. Like the Montauk daisies and Sheffield Pink mums in last week’s column, our familiar mums are members of the Aster or composite family (Asteraceae), like sunflowers and any plant with a daisy-like flower head.

  Editor’s Note: Laura Eisener is a landscape design consultant who helps homeowners with landscape design, plant selection and placement of trees and shrubs, as well as perennials. She is a member of the Saugus Garden Club and offered to write a series of articles about “what’s blooming in town” shortly after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. She was inspired after seeing so many people taking up walking.

Sheffield Pink mums-2
Sheffield Pink mums are a reliably hardy alternative to traditional mum species. (Courtesy photo to The Saugus Advocate by Laura Eisener)
The PFC Richard Devine monument-2
The PFC Richard Devine monument in front of Town Hall, like many monuments around town, has a fall display of chrysanthemums. (Courtesy photo to The Saugus Advocate by Laura Eisener)
The daisy-like red and yellow chrysanthemum-2
The daisy-like red and yellow chrysanthemum blooming beside the white Montauk daisies has overwintered two years so far in my garden. (Courtesy photo to The Saugus Advocate by Laura Eisener)
Some oaks, like this black oak-2
Some oaks, like this black oak on Central Street, show quite a bit of bright color before the leaves turn brown. (Courtesy photo to The Saugus Advocate by Laura Eisener)

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