Retired school teacher revives interest in chrysanthemums

Retired elementary school teacher Joan Matthews is on a mission to “Save the Chrysanthemum.” After realizing that many cultivars of these beautiful exhibition-style mums, once wildly popular in American culture, were disappearing from home gardens and facing extinction, she suddenly felt compelled to act, quickly. After all, there was only one farm in the United States – King’s Mums – even selling the big dish-size bouncy root cuttings for the few who still had a passion for them.

First, she started by reviving and championing the Central Carolina Chrysanthemum Society (CCCS) in North Carolina which had disbanded. “Anyone who would join the club was given free flowers to plant,” recalls Matthews, who started this practice 15 years ago.  Everything from the pincushion varieties to the ones with spiderly-like petals was offered as gifts and enticements.

Then with passion and persuasion – as well as charm – she convinced Sarah P. Duke Gardens to grow and feature large, vintage chrysanthemums in their fall displays and programs and educate consumers on the 13 different classes of chrysanthemums.

Simultaneously, in her role as president of CCCS, Matthews was also instrumental in the creation of the Festival of Fabulous Mums, an annual event featuring an indoor flower show with glorious blooms of every size, shape, and color of this ancient botanical beauty. 

“It’s fun to watch Joan in action,” says friend Penny Amato. “Once someone sees the vast variety of large exhibition-style mums they never knew about, Joan can really put the hook into them with her enthusiasm and concern for their preservation. In the kindest way, she can talk just about anyone into giving these heirloom chrysanthemums a try in their own garden. That’s how she hooked me.”

That is how Matthews first got hooked when she received one for “a dollar” to plant in her garden almost two decades ago. Just growing one chrysanthemum and witnessing how it “adds so much color and beauty” to a garden for months inspires many to become mother earth helpers in sustaining the flowers’ survival. In fact, the flower for November is one of the few that can endure an early frost and still survive and will last weeks in a vase.

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