The acorns have grown and are slowly being consumed by the squirrels and jays. Leaves are starting to turn yellow and there are pumpkins for sale all over the place! Yesterday I saw white pumpkins for sale at our local florist which means that the Tone on Tone style has reached even this part of the world!
The swallows have packed up and left; and the geese are starting to fly south.
These are all signs that Autumn is approaching,
but for me,
nothing heralds Autumn's arrival more than the appearance of the beloved chrysanthemum.
My grandfathers and my father grew these lovely flowers. They were such a part of my life that to me they were somewhat commonplace and hardly worth thinking about!
But then I met the wonderful Henri Fantin-Latour:
Ignace Henri Jean Théodore Fantin-Latour (know as Henri) was a consummate painter of flowers in domestic settings.
His images of the chrysanthemum took me by surprise. He made them look ethereal and gave them a beauty that I had previously not noticed. Just look at this:
http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/henri-fantin-latour/chrysanthemums-1879Isn't it beautiful?
Henri completely changed my point of view, and I went from passing by chrysanthemums without so much as how-do-you-do, to gazing at them with the light of love in my eye.
The tones and texture of the flowers, in their various hues, seem to me to embody all that Autumn is.
The Chinese philosopher known in English as Confucius, apparently liked chrysanthemums and wrote about them around the year 500BC.
In Japan the chrysanthemum was a highly valued plant: The Emperors took it as their personal emblem and as early as the 9th Century garden parties were held to celebrate the flowering of the chrysanthemum (known as the kiku) and following Chinese tradition, it was named as one of the Sikunshi, or four floral gentlemen, (representatives of the four Seasons). chrysanthemum season was of course Autumn.
(This is interesting because in my family that role was held by the lilac. As a child I once picked a lilac to take to my Grandmother but was swiftly propelled outside again, and the symbolism explained to me, before GG (as my grandmother was known) caught sight of my 'gift'. Even today I could not have lilac inside the house although I enjoy its scent.)
I don't know when the chrysanthemum began to migrate outside of its ancestral homelands. I looked in various books but could not find the answer. Apparently it was named chrysanthemum (Golden Flower) in the sixteenth century so I guess it was in Europe, or at least known to Europeans, by that stage.
Melbourne (my adopted city) was founded in 1835. Twenty years later and advice was being given in the local newspaper on how to grow chrysanthemums. A true immigrant flower, it is now a citizen of the world, to be found in just about every part of the globe. These days when you open a plant catalogue you will find them for sale and they are so common that no one in the western world seems to give them much notice. They are almost as the grass beneath our feet. We buy then in small pots and when they have finished flowering we discard them, or put them somewhere (such as behind the potting shed) where they die from lack of care and attention. A nice thank you for the pleasure they have given us!
Daisy-like, or a cluster of petals. Pom poms, doubles, singles. chrysanthemums come in a variety of shapes and sizes. I read in my edition of 'The Flowers and Gardens of Japan' by Florence Du Cane, that the Japanese had at least 150 different types, all with appropriately poetic names:
Nihon Ichi (First in Japan)
Natsu-gumo (Summer Clouds)
Haruna Kasumi (Spring Haze)
Tsuki-no-tomo (Companions of the Moon)
Ake-no-sora (Sky at Dawn)
Asa hi no nami (Waves in the Morning Sun)
Here in our bijou residence, we have a 1788 edition of 'Every Man His Own Gardener'. The original owner of the book, who often pencilled in notes and crosses to denote favourite flowers, left the chrysanthemums unmarked: I felt offended! Why did he like the 'Tangier Pea', the 'Rose Lupin' and the 'Double Sunflower', but not the chrysanthemum?
It might have been because the plant was very hard to grow. Japan (where the Imperial gardeners were having great success) was still a closed country, and no one in Europe had been able to produce a fertile seed.
I checked to see what the author (John Abercrombie) had to say and I was somewhat disappointed. He tells us all about growing them and looking after them but the varieties to be had are few and somewhat boorishly named:
Nathaniel Paterson waxes lyrical about the carnation but makes no mention of 'our' flower.
Things began to change for the chrysanthemum in the mid 19th Century. Those Imperial Gardeners' closely guarded secrets became more widely known and soon everyone was growing them. In 1846 the National Chrysanthemum Society was founded in England and its popularity grew until Henri Fantin-Latour, seeing their beauty and elegance began to paint them:
So there you are: the chrysanthemum. A special flower for this special time of year.
And now, in the tradition of Japanese chrysanthemum viewing, here are some photographs of the chrysanthemums that we are growing on our balcony this Autumn:
Simple, daisy-like blooms:
An interesting petal shape:
One of my favourites:
Chrysanthemum: the golden flower. How could one not love such golden perfection:
Some of our chrysanthemums, en masse, with some friendly roses and a little heather plant:
I hope you enjoyed this post!