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I’ve long had mixed feelings about mums that suddenly pop up at grocery stores in the Fall, looking like outsize flower mushrooms. I’ve tried not to be a stick-in-the-mud, but they’re just so loud and unnatural looking.

However, a few years ago I happened upon some chartreuse-flowered chrysanthemums. I’m weak for any chartreuse plant, so I succumbed to the purchase and I potted them up with some classier-to-my-eyes companion plants and felt very pleased with them. And then I went back for some pale yellow ones. And after they lived through the Winter and Spring and Summer to bloom again, I was hooked. It never occurred to me that they were perennial. Duh. Now I’m wholly enthusiastic about mums and am even happier to see that there are some very chic and more subtly-colored versions out there. 

Chrysanthemum 'Hillside Sheffield Pink'
Chrysanthemum ‘Hillside Sheffield Pink’. Photo by Secret Garden Growers.

Another happy discovery was that the handsome, ferny chrysanthemum foliage makes a nice filler. It’s polite and unobtrusive, blending in well in borders or containers for most of the year, since their floral eruption is contained to the Fall season when I’m in the mood to celebrate as many of the last flowers and vivid colors of the season as I can. Good job mums! 

Garden mum plant
Garden mum plant out of bloom in container plant.

So here we go, a couple chrysanthemums for people who don’t like chrysanthemums, as well as some Fall into Winter container plant pairings that will take even your most unabashedly colorful grocery store mums into a more modern and tasteful realm.

Carex testacea
Carex testacea, copper sedge. Photo by Anna Kullgren.

Pair mums with grasses, those container garden workhorses that provide bulk, height, texture, and movement. Carex Testacea shown above takes a cue from Fall and takes on an excellent copper color. Or try the very quirky, fun Carex comans ‘Frosted Curls’. Either would be divine in the sepia sunlight season paired with the beautiful apricot colored Chrysanthemum ‘Sheffield’. I’m also crazy about the majestic ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass as a specimen plant in a container because of it’s narrow and well-behaved habit and the way the Fall and Winter sun looks gleaming through the golden-tan seed heads.

'Karl Foerster' Feather Reed Grass.
Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster. Photo by Karl Gercens III.

Or consider New Zealand flax as a foundation plant to combine with your mums. One cool option is the super rare and super terrific Phormium Tenax ‘Guardsman’. Cistus Nursery says it can grow over 10′ (!!!) but a mortal such as myself would be just as awe-inspired to get one to 6′. Or how fun would it be to combine pinky Phormium ‘Jester’, Helleborus x hybridus ‘Berry Swirl’ Winter Jewels, the broad-leaved, pink tinged Heuchera ‘Green Spice’, and some pretty Chrysanthemum ‘Clara Curtis’ dancing through it all? Swoon.

Phormium Jester
Phormium ‘Jester’. Photo by Karl Gercens III.


Helleborus orientalis 'Berry Swirl'
Helleborus orientalis ‘Berry Swirl’. Photo by Karl Gercens III.


Heuchera 'Green Spice'
Heuchera ‘Green Spice’. Photo by Secret Garden Growers.


Chrysanthemum 'Clara Curtis'
Chrysanthemum ‘Clara Curtis’. Photo by Cistus Nursery.

And if you’re ready to fully embrace the loud and proud Autumnal reds and yellows of the typical grocery store mums, here are some fun plant pairing ideas that will really make them pop and provide lasting interest in the months ahead.

Fall Garden Mums
Fall Garden Mums


Lonicera nitida 'Twiggy'
Lonicera nitida ‘Twiggy’. Photo by Karl Gercens III.

A dwarf version of the indispensable golden box honeysuckle, Lonicera nitida ‘Twiggy’, will provide a pop of evergreen golden color. And your mums will really love an underplanting of something dark like Ajuga reptans ‘Catlin’s Giant’.

Ajuga reptans 'Catlin's Giant'
Ajuga reptans ‘Catlin’s Giant’. Photo by Little Prince of Oregon.

And Sedum ‘Dragon’s Blood’ provides a dark red carpet covered in red flowers in late Summer and Fall.

Sedum spurium 'Dragon's Blood'
Sedum ‘Dragon’s Blood’. Photo by Alan Lorence.