The South's Best Mums

Soft colors, graceful forms, and easy growth make these vintage perennials perfect for today's gardens.
Steve Bender and Linda Askey

In the early decades of the 20th century, mass-marketing of perennials didn't exist. Instead, these plants often were passed from hand to hand and from neighbor to neighbor, a gift usually prompted by a compliment. That's largely how these mums have survived to this day.

Ryan tells the story of one of the most popular old mums, 'Ryan's Pink,' named for him after he shared it with Goodness Grows nursery in Lexington, Georgia. "It was given to me by a lady named Harriet Spencer who lives in Atlanta," he recalls. "Since that time, I've seen it growing in a lot of old gardens."

Maybe that's because Harriet didn't have it first. Some claim 'Ryan's Pink' is just a renamed old favorite called 'Country Girl.' Others swear these two mums are different and that 'Country Girl' is really 'Clara Curtis' in disguise. Still others say you can tell 'Clara Curtis' from 'Country Girl' by its lacier leaf. For our part, we'll steer clear of the controversy. Let's just say that all three names represent a striking pink mum of good constitution that belongs in your garden.

 

Old Flowers Find New Friends
Luckily, today's gardeners don't have to beg a friend for a division. Because these mums are so hardy and their flowers are so welcome at this time of year, more and more nurseries are selling them. Though mail-order nurseries have wider selections, better garden centers are catching up. Now is a good time to plant.

Tips on Care
If you like mums that form tidy spheres 18 inches across, don't grow these. But if you want fall-blooming perennials that can stand shoulder to shoulder with asters, salvias, and ornamental grasses, you've found the right plants. Many grow tall during summer and survive the coldest winter to grow as high and even wider the following year.

Left to their own devices, the large, old mums usually sag under the weight of their blooms. Welcome this trait, and even plan around it. Place taller-growing mums in the back of the border. Their flowers will fall toward the sun and hide any tired summer annuals that are planted in front. But if you prefer to have shorter plants, cut back tall growers by half in early July.

Heirloom mums need only full sun and good drainage to thrive. When clumps grow too large, divide them in late fall or early spring, and replant. Go easy on the fertilizer. Well-fed old mums tend to flop even more.