Going kiku for autumn. The chrysanthemum festival
What’s autumn without the chrysanthemum? Little it seems these days. But beyond the generically bland and ubiquitous mum balls, that appear on every corner and outside every front door, is the superb artistry and achingly beautiful perfection of trained and grafted chrysanthemums, the kiku of Japan.
Known since the Eastern Han Dynasty in about 25 A.D., the Double Ninth Festival occurs on the ninth day of the ninth month of the Chinese calendar. The date was considered to have too much yang and be potentially dangerous. To offset any possible ill effects, people undertook evasive action. They climbed mountains, wore dogwood… and drank cleansing brews of chrysanthemum tea.
Like many things Chinese, the Double Ninth eventually made its way to Japan. And like the many other things Chinese introduced to Japan, the Japanese gave the date a special twist of their own, furthering an association with the fall-flowering chrysanthemum. In 910 A.D., the Japanese imperial court held the first chrysanthemum show. A stylized chrysanthemum blossom, the kikumon, even eventually became the heraldic badge of the imperial family. Known as Chrysanthemum Day, the Double Ninth is one of the five ancient sacred festivals of Japan.
At Longwood Gardens in Kendall Square, Pennsylvania skilled gardeners have been crafting chrysanthemums in the traditional styles of Japan behind the scenes all year. They’re currently, superbly on stage in the Main Conservatory during the Chrysanthemum Festival. If you can’t climb a mountain for good luck, take a hike to this incredible, show-stopping display instead. Longwood’s kiku are at it until November 19.
Chrysanthemum ‘Seaton’s Ashleigh’
Chrysanthemun ‘Garnet King’
Top right: Chrysantemum ‘Bill Holden’
Chrysanthemum ‘Edo 21’
Left: Chrysanthemum ’Koto-no-Kaori’