10 November 2009

Thousand Bloom

What? More mums!? It's hard to believe that my first contact with mums back in June would become part of this:
As I near the end of a full year at Longwood, one of my favorite things is to see something in the gardens or the displays - a plant, a design, a project - that I worked on months previously and which is now being realized, displayed, implemented, and cooed over by adoring guests. It makes one feel rather proud. More than anything, I feel awed and humbled when I'm able to say, "I had a part in that". Now, I have no idea which of the 8, 567 mum cuttings I potted up last spring went where, but every time I walk through the conservatory and look at the Thousand Bloom, I smile. Why? Because I had a part in that.

A very small part. Minuscule, to be honest. Microscopic, in the grand scheme of mum training, really. But a part nonetheless.

I bet you're wondering to yourself, "What is a Thousand Bloom, anyway?" Well today is your lucky day! Let me introduce you to the Thousand Bloom:

What you see here is a feat of botanical art and engineering. This is one plant - one plant! - that has been meticulously trained to produce over 700 perfectly spaced blooms. 718, to be exact, which makes this the largest Thousand Bloom Chrysanthemum in the US. So there.

This amazing art form began in China and Japan some 200 years ago (Thousand blooms, bonsai...those folks were really into controlling nature in a big - or small - way!). Apparently there are only a handful of growers who know how to do this sort of thing these days and one of them is right here at Longwood. She travels to Japan during each growing stage of the entire process to learn from the masters there, then brings that knowledge back and applies it to this rare and wonderful art form. Can you believe that the plant which will be trained into next year's Thousanda Bloom is already being grown in the production greenhouse!?

Moving the Thousand Bloom into the Conservatory was a major undertaking and I wish I could have witnessed it first hand. I did manage to snap a few shots of it soon after it was moved, as it was being coiffed in preparation for its debut to the public.

Longwood even produced this cool video to showcase this special horticultural achievement:

Along with the Thousand Bloom (or 718 Bloom) there are two smaller Bloomers with about 200-something blossoms on each. One of them sports three different colors of flowers and, yes, it's just one plant! The different colors are achieved by grafting different varieties onto the parent plant. Cool, huh!? And guess what? I got to spend a day disbudding them!

Each and every stem trained on these plants produces multiple flower buds. In order to get the uniformity desired, all but the largest bud are painstakingly removed. It's an arduous exercise in extreme tediousness, but when you're in a zen-type mood it's not so bad and can be rather meditative. I'm proud to say I worked on both the smaller Thousand Blooms and only snapped off two buds! Whew!

These are the stars of the Chrysanthemum Festival here at Longwood. Other mum art includes the hanging baskets, collars, topiaries, and specimen plants that are currently to be found in every corner of the Conservatory. I don't think there's a student at Longwood who hasn't worked on the mums at one point or other. When I was in Greenhouse Production in June and spent most of the month potting mum cuttings, one of my classmates was over on the other side of the nursery bending and tying stems on the many curtain forms, training the plants that would one day become the floriferous collars worn by the pillars in the conservatory (watering them is an art form in and of itself). I wish I could show all of this to you in person but you'd have to get here quickly because the Chrysanthemum Festival ends next weekend! In a matter of days, all that you see in these photos will be replaced with Poinsettias and other festive Christmas bloomery! For now, enjoy the photos and make plans to visit Longwood next year.

If you time your visit during the Christmas display, I'll be able to show you the Poinsettia standard that I grafted a wee bud onto all those months ago. It's in the production greenhouse as we speak, aspiring to become a 10' tall 6' wide Poinsettia masterpiece...and I had a part in that!

Find out more about the 1,000 Bloom here.

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