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2001 Paul Barlow

This web page was originally published in 1998 and has remained unchanged since that date.

Enthusiasm in decline?

This brief article gives a personal view of the current situation where unfortunately, as a chrysanthemum enthusiast in the U.K. I find myself part of an ever decreasing group. It's interesting, as we stand on the brink of the 21st century, to take a look at the situation from various angles. Firstly a look at where we are today, secondly  an examination of recent history to plot how we arrived at this point; and thirdly a look forward to try to visualise what might happen to chrysanthemum growing in the next 5-10 years, taking both a pessimistic and then an optimistic view. 

Finally some thoughts and ideas on what could be done to turn the optimistic view into reality. Some readers may consider this wishful, perhaps even utopian thinking, but if nothing is done then my hobby, like many other specialist branches of amateur horticulture, will slowly but surely disappear. It would indeed be a great shame if a hobby such as this is prematurely consigned to the history books.

Again, these are my personal views and ideas and do not attempt to reflect current views or thinking of the national organisation.

Where are we now?
  • We are at the pinnacle of breeding and exhibiting standards - cultivars we grow today are simply the best we have ever seen and the standards at our shows are unequalled by anything in the past.
  • Current cultivars will have to last at least another 10 years because many of our commercial chrysanthemum raisers are disappearing - there's no profit in developing exhibition cultivars for the amateur market and therefore  no real incentive to breed new cultivars on a large scale. Amateur breeders can be found and some good cultivars are produced but they cannot fill the gaps left by the commercial raisers.
  • Novelties of real, lasting quality are becoming something of a rarity.
  • Are we also at the beginning of significant climate change? Weather statistics might suggest this is the case. If this is true then hotter summers in the UK would have a marked effect on the way we grow chrysanths and when we hold our shows.
  • Society in general is changing - the pace of life seems much faster and we always seem to be looking for 'quick returns'. Long term investment of time and effort, such as that required to grow chrysanthemums, is something that many people are not prepared to commit to.
  • Modern gardens are becoming smaller as house builders and developers try to squeeze more and more houses on to an area of land - their profit is in selling bricks and mortar not chrysanthemum plots!. Small gardens are not always suitable for exhibition chrysanthemum culture. There was a time when allotment gardening was very popular, however these too are becoming a thing of the past except for small pockets of enthusiasm..
  • The age profile of people who are currently enthusiastic about chrysanthemums suggests perhaps a 10-20 year life for the hobby if no new growers replace the older ones.
  • We have now achieved cultural and exhibiting standards that are so high that it is difficult to see how we can maintain them. The perfection achieved at the highest levels is simply breathtaking - a joy to behold!
  • There is a downside to this however: have such high standards and the constant search for perfection simply made it too difficult for the average gardener to compete at our shows?
  • We are at a crossroads - expiry or expansion? If we do nothing to encourage new growers of chrysanthemums then, as a movement,  we will indeed expire over time - but with dedication, enthusiasm and perhaps some changes along the way we are surely capable of generating new interest in our favourite flower.

Have we engineered the means of our own demise?

Where have we come from/How did we get here?
  • 150 years of gradual improvement and understanding - the national society has been promoting chrysanthemums for over 150 years since first formed at Stoke Newington in 1846.
  • Over the last 25 years we have witnessed major steps forward on all fronts:-
    • New introductions during the 1970's, 80's and early 90's far outstripped anything seen previously in terms of numbers of cultivars registered .
    • We've seen tremendous quality improvements in bloom size and form and paricularly in garden spray cultivars that are easily capable of a dozen or more blooms per stem.
    • Growing techniques have improved all round, commercial developments in chrysanthemum culture have been passed on to the amateur grower .
    • A greater technical understanding is widespread amongst growers - the old 'muck and magic' secrets of  small bands of 'chosen ones' are now consigned to the past. The growers of today are much more open with their knowledge and are prepared to pass this on to anyone who shows interest.
    • Commercial developments in all forms of horticulture have brought with them significant advances in fertilisers, pesticides, and fungicides. The use of such products is unfortunately a necessary evil in order to comply with the current judging and exhibiting rules. 
  • From the late fourties through to the seventies there was an acceleration of interest in most horticutural pursuits but this appears to go into decline from the early eighties.

We have a history to be proud off - it's too good to lose!

Where are we going? (a pessimistic view)
  • For the reasons stated earlier our current varieties are the end of the line.
  • Amateur raisers decline in numbers and novelties all but disappear.
  • Shows standards decline as many of the current varieties deteriorate in terms of health and vigour.
  • Exhibitor numbers decline further because the quality flowers of the past are no longer available.
  • Small (local) horticultural shows fold and disappear faster than before as there are fewer people to run them and fewer exhibitors to bring their horticultural achievements.
  • The national shows, always considered the showpieces in our calendar, limp along for a few more years but largely as an 'exhibitors club'.
  • As a result of reducing membership many specialist societies are forced to operate on a shoestring,  premises and gardens are sold off and job losses result in some areas.
  • Chrysanthemum publications reduce in frequency and content - there are less people to contribute to these publications and less people to read them.
  • Specialist society's membership numbers continue to fall - and yet the interest in general gardening flourishes.
  • There is a  small resurgence of interest and enthusiasm for chrysanthemums following resurrection of a number of old cultivars.
  • Shows that were traditionally held in August and September are rescheduled to October due to climate changes. In the chrysanthemum world the Early and Late shows merge to become a single October show.
  • No matter what is done by specialist societies it proves insufficient to get the general public interested enough  to increase the numbers of people who grow these specialist subjects.

In twenty years from now many specialist horticultural societies no longer exist.

Where are we going?  (an optimistic view) - a "vision"

This vision is specifically aimed at getting chrysanthemum growing to the forefront of amateur gardening and yes, it may be an utopian view - but why not? It is achievable!

  • Nearly every local community has an annual horticultural show that incorporates the exhibition of chrysanthemums. All levels of interest are catered for by changes to judging and exhibiting standards.
  • National society membership doubles over 10 years as members of the public see chrysanthemum growing as an interesting and rewarding hobby and national society membership as excellent value for money.
    All age groups are represented in the membership of the society.
  • National shows become self-funding due to higher numbers of exhibitors and more interest from sponsors.
  • We take our shows to the people because they don't come to us - town and city centre venues become more popular and create more public interest.
  • We explore joint ventures with other large bodies, e.g. local councils, community groups.
  • We make it easier to get flowers into our shows by addressing rigidity in our schedules and judging and exhibiting standards.
  • We find a way to accommodate the casual gardener as well as the out-and-out enthusiast. We make it enjoyable for  growers at all levels of interest.
  • We run successful membership campaigns, attracting people at horticultural and non-horticultural events.
  • The national society runs successful advertising campaigns (measured in terms of new members and sale of goods) using local publications, leaflet campaigns and posters. Leaflet campaigns in local (free?) papers prove to be a big success.
  • We successfully remove the 'muck and magic' from   publications to make them less daunting for the non-technically minded.  However, a new technical publication finds favour with those who want to take their understanding to a deeper level.
  • Many experienced growers become engaged in teaching for novice growers.
  • Schools show an interest in the hobby and ask for help in running small projects.
  • We get good returns from pensioners groups because they have time on their hands and are keen to learn. They also appreciate that sometimes good things are worth waiting for!
  • New chrysanthemum raisers start producing quality cultivars in numbers reminiscent of the past.
  • There is a thriving internet community discussing and sharing chrysanthemum information on a global scale.

In twenty years from now interest in chrysanthemums is at an all time high and going from strength to strength.

How do we get there?

If there was an easy solution then we would have solved this problem long ago. The following thoughts and ideas are aimed at increasing the number of people who grow and show chrysanthemums. It falls upon the enthusiasts of today to develop the growers for the future. It won't be easy as we compete with a world of quick returns. It seems that modern society demands immediate results - growing a plant  for 6-9 months before seeing the end product is simply too long for many people. So what can we do? Let's take a hyperthetical case where we try to encourage our next door neighbour to grow and exhibit a few chrysanthemums:

  • Firstly, be prepared to put time into making this a success.
  • Perhaps a good place to start is by suggesting garden sprays - they are less complicated and can be grown in the garden border .
  • Provide the plants free of charge if possible - we should be able to find other growers with spare plants even if we don't have any ourselves.
  • Try to keep the interest going by showing pictures of what is possible, and lending books and other literature. 6-9 months is a long time until we see the results of our efforts.
  • Try to help with the basics of chrysanth cultivation. Provide practical demonstrations throughout the season - don't leave him to fend for himself. Keep it simple and straightforward.
  • Encourage him to join the local society and hopefully the national society (it really is good value for money).
  • If he is sufficiently interested accompany him to some of the shows in the area. Help him to cut and prepare the blooms/sprays for the show. Help  with staging and interpreting the schedule. Explain what the judges are looking for in the various chrysanthemum sections.
  • Keep in regular contact but be prepared for loss of interest - we can't win them all!
  • Consider starting a beginner's class if you have enough time to commit to this. With a group of new growers learning together there will hopefully be a collective enthusiasm that carries the group through. Unfortunately finding one new grower is difficult enough - finding several will be hard work!

Doing all or part of the above will not be easy - we have to find people who are prepared to give chrysanthemum growing a try. They are as rare as good quality loam but without them we cannot hope to see our hobby flourish in the 21st century.


Comment October 2005
This webpage was published in 1998 and represented my personal views then and indeed now. I firmly believe that the current exhibition standards and rules for judging are major constraints on the longevity of the chrysanthemum movement. It will require special people with vision and new ideas, and the will to see them through, to avoid the inevitable demise. Unfortunately those who could initiate change seem to be stuck in a 'seventies mindset' and are fearful of modern ideas and proposals. 

'Change' is inevitable and sometimes difficult to accept but nevertheless shouldn't we take a very close look at every opportunity on offer?

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Last updated on 11 October, 2005