In Japan there is a National Chrysanthemum Day that is called "The Festival of Happiness." For anyone who lives close enough to the New York Botanical Garden, Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden ends on Sunday. For this last weekend there will be a Bonsai display around the waterlily pond and Taiko Drummers on the lawn.
The photo above is an overview of the the look of the Enid A.Haupt Conservatory until Sunday. Below the fold is text and photos to explain this Japanese living art.
The name "chrysanthemum" is derived from the Greek words chrysos (gold) and anthemon (flower). You can see the similarity to the typical daisy.
From a western point of view the chrysanthemum is a member of that most successful angiosperm family called the Asteraceae. In terms of numbers of species, this family is rivaled only by Orchidaceae. What I find amazing is the efficiency of the Asteraceae. While the angiosperms appeared somewhere around 250 or perhaps as late as 192 million years ago with the great angiosperm radiation being about 100 million years ago, at least 50 million prior to the appearance of the Asteraceae, now these plants that were named for the Greek word meaning "Star" are either the first or second dominant species of flowering plants on earth. The Sunflower is a familiar member and the Aster is the most prominent genus of this family. During this Eastern Chrysanthemum season you can see the similarity in the Aster that now dominates our Western forest.
Most species of chrysanthemum originate in East Asia and the center of diversity is China. The chrysanthemum is one of the The "Four Gentlemen" in Chinese art. The four plants that are used to depict the unfolding of the seasons are the plum blossom for spring, the orchid for summer, the chrysanthemum for autumn, and the bamboo for winter. "Chu" is honored by the Chinese city Chu-Hsien which means Chrysanthemum City. In the Chinese autumn chrysanthemums play a significant role in the Double Ninth Festival.
Since being exported over to Japan in 8th century A.D. the flower has found an even more important role in Japanese culture. The chrysanthemum has influenced western art for many years but for centuries to the Japanese this flower has been an Imperial horticultural art. Around ten years ago New York Botanical Garden began sending gardeners to Japan for a fascinating cultural exchange and to learn this art form. The Palm Court of the Enid A Haupt Conservatory reminds me of this cultural chrysanthemum bridge.
So taken were the Japanese with this flower that they adopted a single flowered chrysanthemum as the crest and official seal of the Emperor. The chrysanthemum in the crest is a 16-floret variety called "Ichimonjiginu." Family seals for prominent Japanese families also contain some type of chrysanthemum called a Kikumon - "Kiku" means chrysanthemum and "Mon" means crest. In Japan, the Imperial Order of the Chrysanthemum is the highest Order of Chivalry.
The chrysanthemum is the official flower of Japan and has become a symbol of longevity, power, dignity and nobility. In the Japanese garden the cycle of life from birth to death is reflected in the quiet passage of a year in the Garden. The chrysanthemum that is also a metaphor for homosexuality in Japanese poems is celebrated each autumn in Kiku Matsuri throughout the parks, gardens and homes of Japan.
Akihito is the is the 125th Japanese monarch to occupy the Chrysanthemum Throne. While the cycle of life has been honored for generations in the Japanese garden the Imperial styles of kiku that are presented in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory this year were once shared only with a select few and the art of Kiku was a closely guarded secret. After a five-year cultural and educational exchange, gardeners at The New York Botanical Garden learned this art from Kiku master Yasuhira Iwashita and other Japanese Chrysanthemum Masters. Some of these Japanese traditions are very labor intensive and the autumn displays are the result of much patience and skill.
Ozukuri or "thousand bloom" is what I find to be the most fascinating. A single chrysanthemum plant is trained to produce hundreds of simultaneous flowers in a massive, dome-shaped array. An illustration beside the Ozukuri uwaya in a previous year helps to explain this painstaking effort that produces a miniature hill of flowers from just one plant!
Once these plants are ready for display they are shown in specially built wooden containers called sekidai. At that point the supporting collars have become complicated frameworks that lead up to and support each individual flower. This year instead of a sekidai, Ozukuri is under glass.
Kengai or "cascade" which actually translates to "overhanging cliff," is not from one or two plants trained but hundreds of smaller flowered chrysanthemums. These flowers are trained on a boat-shaped framework that is then angled to resemble flowers growing down the face of a cliff.
Kengai has been familiar to western gardeners for many years and is also called the "bonsai chrysanthemum" because the method is a common practice used to evoke age with the miniature trees. This year's display in the conservatory.
Ogiku or "single stem" display are plants trained to reach up to six feet tall with one enormous perfect flower balanced on top.
Each uwaya features exactly 108 single-stemmed plants placed in diagonal rows. The diagonal rows of flowers in pink, yellow, and white are meant to echo the colors and patterns of the tazuna, the bridle reins of the Japanese emperor.
In previous years Shino-tsukuri or "driving rain" was displayed. I did not see any this year but there is a newer discipline on display. The view below is a more recent method where bonsai and chrysanthemum are combined. Flowers are trained around a piece of wood that was found on the garden grounds to mimic the shape of a meticulously manicured bonsai.
And then there is the newest addition that everyone seems to be calling Chrysanthemum Christmas Trees.
Another Ozukuri in this year's show.
One more of my favorite views from this year's Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden.
And that's the end of the tour.