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Date last updated: 
21 March 2008

An Interview with New Zealand Grower - Ashley Booth

Ashley Booth

The National Chrysanthemum Society has a number of growers who have

consistently produced show blooms of quality. 


As the aim of the Society is: “To promote the cultivation of the chrysanthemum ...”, what better way to do this than gather the knowledge and wisdom of these growers and shape it for the enlightenment of others?


So that each grower would respond to the same questions meant preparing

a questionnaire. Initially, some selected North Island growers have agreed to participate in this exercise and we take pleasure in publishing the first under the heading – ‘Feature Growers’.

Maps downloaded from the Internet are fine for general directions but if the smaller street names are illegible you’re in trouble, and indeed I was, trying to find Ashley Booth in unfamiliar Hamilton. After fifteen minutes of frustration and mis-direction, a sense of proximity prevailed and Kensington Place was reached. 


Ashley was found in his shed out the back. This is a relatively small timber and iron-roofed affair lit by a small window. After ducking under one of two grape vines that wrap its exterior, on entering the gloom within, the first sensory response is the smell of garden sprays, but as the eye adjusts, the ordered clutter of chrysanthemum growing paraphernalia prevailed revealing Ashley seated beside his work bench pondering the sheet of questions previously posted.



Who/what prompted you to grow chrysanthemums and when did you start?

“‘When started’ is easy”, said Ashley, “1959”.

Ashley first lived in Wanganui with lots of garden space, had seen chrysanthemums and had an aunt who grew them, so he bought some young plants, shoved them in and waited ... no results! The man in the nearby BP station suggested joining the local Chrysanthemum Club, which he did and secured his first ‘Large’ plants at a demonstration day. This time, success! Growing continued after a move to Masterton, and then subsequently in Hamilton.


What do you see as your level of success?

“Top New Zealand level”, supported by the hard evidence of having won the twelve vase Large Exhibition class 20 times, and been Champion of Champions over 18 times. Ashley emphasised that success has also to be seen in actively promoting growing and helping other growers, which has extended to management at both local level with the Waikato Chrysanthemum Society and at National level where he has been for many years on the Management Committee including being its chairman. 

He is a Life Member of the NZNCS, and the Waikato Chrysanthemum Society. Ashley was pivotal in the production of the first ‘Stopping Chart’ in New Zealand. Firstly in Wanganui, then in Masterton, and further developed with other growers in Hamilton. He is also convenor of the National Classification Committee. Ashley was awarded the Queen’s Service medal in 2006 for his contributions to Chrysanthemum growing in New Zealand. 


Do you grow on your own or with a partner? 

“I’m an own grower.” Mrs Booth is supportive especially at show times but has no ‘hands on’ role. 



What are your growing routines? 

“I started growing in beds, successfully making up my own mix of soil, compost sand and fertiliser, then shifted to pots. In Hamilton, I use Daltons mix (bark-based with 9 month, slow release fertiliser), bought in bulk.” It is more expensive but saves a lot of hard work and time, and there is no time spent weeding as the pot mix is weed free.” 

a) Preparation 

In May-June old plants are cut back to about 20cms, and the new ground shoots low to ground level. 

b) Cuttings 

Cuttings should be about 8cms long, cut or snapped off just below a leaf node. These are taken from the ground shoots only. “Avoid taking cuttings from long shoots - let shoots start in June - July, so you can take cuttings in late August through to September.” (Look at the Waikato ‘Stopping Guide’.) Cuttings need to be clear of aphids, gall midge, chrysanthemum rust, and white rust. Strike these in pumice sand or cutting mix with base heat in bright shade. Use a general purpose fungicide to combat losses through ‘rot’. After four weeks, well rooted plants are on hand for potting. In a good location, base heat may not be required. 

c) Potting on 

These plants are placed in 15cm pots filled with Daltons mix and grown on for about 4 weeks. The next shift is straight into final ‘pots’ which are PB 28 and PB 40 (black plastic bags of Daltons pot mix) . No additional fertiliser is added. If buckets are used, the smaller volume might need extra feeding. These pots are set out in beds which are covered in March. 

d) Feeding 

In the second or third week of January, a medium handful of 5: 5:5 garden fertiliser is added to the top of the existing mix, then more mix is added on top of this again. Compost could be used to ‘top up’. Care needs to be taken not to over feed cultivars liable to dampen off at flowering. 

e) Stopping 

“Most cultivars are normally stopped twice, once in December and again in January. Many of the Large Exhibition are only stopped once – this varies according to type and locality. For the keen exhibitor, some cultivars can be stopped the first time, and then let go to a ‘natural break’ as the second stop. This gives options for selecting the bud on the right date. Again, some cultivars of Large Exhibition seem to produce a better flower that way.” Reference should be made to the Stopping Guide, or your own or others’ records.

f) Spraying

“As little as possible!” 

For aphids - Confidor (especially for the Black Melon Aphid);

For fungus - Captan (or Alto for White Rust); 

For caterpillars - Pyrethrum or Carbaryl;

And mites - Omite applied early in the New Year.

[Omite is difficult to get - Verdex which contains abamectin, also sold as Avid, is available and very effective - D O.]

g) Staking and Covering

Most cultivars need support. Staking can also help to develop evenly. “It is vital to keep the stalk straight after selecting the bud and maintain flower development evenly on the upright stalk.”

h) Selecting blooms

Blooms are selected on the basis of straightness of stem and bloom to stem, along with the other factors of form, freshness, size and colour. Cardboard or foam collars are often put under singles or anemone centred and some fantasies from a couple of weeks

before picking, up until arriving at the show. This keeps the guard petals from dropping.

i) Getting the Bloom to the Show

“Everyone has their own particular way of solving this problem. I have several systems involving metal ‘tubes’ spaced along strips on timber the size being matched to the car. There’s nothing wrong with lining an oversized bucket with ‘foam’ padding, then spiralling

more padding (inwards) along with the blooms until filled – this works well with Decs and Anemones.” Most large exhibition need to be supported tight up the stem with an attached wire.

j) Staging

“Before leaving for the venue, plan which blooms go in each entry.” “Do a final check at the show and take out any damaged or bad petals, and any ‘livestock’.”

k) End of Season

“Non-performing plants are culled. The remaining plants are then cut down and stock is sprayed if necessary. Plants are kept in their ‘bags’ in open shade. If Wintered under cover, there is a risk of Western Flower Thrip which was very bad a few years ago.”



What range grown from Classification List Sections?

“I grow many cultivars, about 160 plants in total, but the emphasis is on Large Exhibition - with Medium Exhibition, and Exhibition Incurved. I also have Intermediate Decs, and a few Singles, Anemone Centred and Fantasies - I don’t grow Reflex Decs, but have a range of Intermediate Decs.”


What are your preferred cultivars?

“Quite a few!” The Dukes (Duke of Kent), Bill Bye, Primrose and Jessie Habgood,

Mark Woolman, Bill Fitton, Pamela Vestry, Ivor Mace, Silver Gigantic, Kitcheners, Connie Mayhew, Pat Brophy, Primrose Supreme, Kay Woolman, Oporto, Seaton’s Flirt, Dorridge Snowball, Yellow John Hughes, Pontardulais, and Stockton, The Armguards, Jan Wardle, Promenade, the Resilients, and Star Prize, Alexis and sports, Glad Eye, Bendigo, Old Bill, Wind Chimes, and Stoakes Shannon, Edith Mechen, Carillion, and Vibrant as a late cut flower (June/July) for the house.


Do you experiment with growing techniques and if so,

a) in what ways

“It has been essential to keep all detailed records to help with improving growing techniques and performance. I have done this for 48 years and still refer back to earlier years - there’s too much to commit to memory!”

“Mark Woolman - by restricting the size of the pot and fertiliser application; along with a very early stop, then a natural break for the second stop; using natural second breaks on Mark Woolman, Bill Bye, Yellow Phil Houghton and others.

b) what has succeeded?

“When cuttings are looking as though they’re coming too early, I take the cuttings at the right stage, put them in named plastic bags and keep them in the fridge from 7 to 21 days before they are due to go into the striking mix. I have done this with the Dukes, Bill Bye, Connie Mayhew, Kay Woolman, Yellow John Hughes, and Bendigo.”

“Soil mixes - variations on the UK mixes; using bricks to provide good drainage under the pots.”

Using black plastic bags PB 40’s and 28’s with Daltons pot mix each year to prevent build up of pests and diseases (as can happen in permanent beds).

“Use of fans to keep air movement during humid and wet conditions.” (Inside the chrysanthemum ‘house’).

Over-wintering plants outside to avoid Western Flower Thrip.

Using under-covers of light cloth below the roof and just above the flower-head to reduce damping.

Use of Nova roof instead of plastic on frames.

Use of white plastic on top half of side frames to avoid pinking off due to direct sunlight.

c) what has failed?

“Using pea metal under pots and on top of bricks;

Using varying amount of soil and pot mix to prevent over-feeding of Mark Woolmans – no difference!;

Have not found any benefits from folia or liquid ground feeding.”


Can you explain what has maintained your interest in growing?

“I thoroughly enjoy the challenge – used to work doing things with plants in Agriculture, so growing chrysanthemums runs parallel to this; plus involvement with other growers around New Zealand; I like the competitive nature of the activity; ... and the opportunity to contribute at both local and national levels.”


What are the further challenges that you see as a grower?

“Trying to achieve a higher proportion of top flowers!

Keep up the quality as age starts to catch up with me and try to hand on my knowledge to others to carry on.”


Are there any books/publications/web sites that you would recommend to beginning growers?

Chrysanthemums in New Zealand, compiled by the late Henry Angelini of Pahiatua, for the NZ National Chrysanthemum Society, and published in 1973.

The NZNCS Newsletters and Year Books.

Earlier publications from the Society dealing with many aspects of growing and showing chrysanthemums. (Some are still available from NZNCS.)

The National Chrysanthemum Society of Great Britain have many excellent publications.


As I departed, with concise instructions on how to return to the main road north, I sensed that Ashley was quietly relieved that ‘question time’ had finished and he could return to the serious matter of keeping the blooms straight on their stalks – he’s not one to trumpet his success but a knowing hand is very evident in his well-organised growing environment.


Derek Olphert
Editor, NCS New Zealand 


Reproduced with permission from National Chrysanthemum Society, New Zealand.
March 2008

Views inside the house at flowering time. Click each image for a larger picture

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© Copyright 2006 Paul Barlow.