Once, years and years ago, I was a dinner guest at Lambert, then the Rothschild’s mansion on Île Saint-Louis, Paris. It was an extraordinary evening and such a pleasure to be a guest of the baron and baroness. It was there that I saw a photograph of a long table set for a dinner party which had taken place at Lambert. On the table, in this beautiful and stylishly bedecked manse, were pompon chrysanthemums. And they looked perfect.
Mums are often maligned, but they don’t deserve it. That photograph I saw at Lambert was confirmation that you can take something that costs practically nothing and put it in pretty surroundings, and it will look great. The photograph at Lambert served as the inspiration for the cozy dinner for four that I created for these first few photos. (Please excuse the reproduction quality here, these are scans of chromes from my archive.)
What follows is a myriad of mums in an array of colors and settings… And hopefully proof that we should drop any cynicism we have for this grocery store darling, the chrysanthemum.
When the dahlias are finished for the year, chrysanthemums hold on through the fall in New England. Mums are one of the few flowers I enjoy at Weatherstone, but which I don’t grow. They’re so affordable and easy to find at the local nursery that I prefer to pick them up in pots when the season sets in.
The earthy tones of the chrysanthemum arrangements in these following photographs of a luncheon I hosted in the stable not only mirror the season but also the rich, dark wood paneling, windowpanes, and furniture. White linens give clean contrast and show off the raw and burnt umber shades.
The rust detailing on these early 19th century English creamware plates by Copeland, is the signal that the warm fall colors will work with the blue and white palette. (Bill Blass collected the brown and rust colorway of this transferware, but I’ve always thought the Greek colorway, as the blue and white is called, is more feminine.)
Warm russet, burgundy, Bourdeau, garnet, yellow-orange, spiked with the hypernicum berries. I love the way the chartreuse centers are echoed by the green in the crabapples—an element I brought in from the garden.
These big, yellow California mums remind me of the homecomings of my youth. It was the custom to wear a mum corsage to the game and dance. In the U.S., mums are often associated with thrift. Yet in other countries, particularly Japan, they are considered a flower of great beauty.
Above, in this Japanese vase, they work well with the strong lines and look thoroughly modern. Are you surprised that this is a Japanese bronze vase from the early 18th century?
Switching color palettes —one of the other things to love about mums is that they are available in so many shades — I’ve played off of the rosy shades in this Majolica pitcher. The flowers here have petals that fade from rose pink in the center to shell pink on the outside. The snowberries mixed in have had just a touch of frost, which gives them the pinkish hue.
In the autumn, I have a tendency to mix fruits and flowers. The plate of grapes, pears and apples, picks up the colors of the majolica and the burgundy browns in the fabric.
In another part of the barn, I hosted a little lunch for three, using English transferware, fabric I love and simple baskets of rosy colored mums. I just love the huge variety of mums and the zillion different looks you can get with the same flower.
Browns and ambers abound here. Country earthenware and amber goblets are the perfect shades and weights to go with these large rust and yellow beauties.
Always thinking about how the food will look on the table, this pastry-covered poached pear is one of my favorite fall desserts. Nancy does a beautiful job of “dressing” the fruit for dinner.
Purple, purple, purple. Surprise your guests with the royal shade of little pompons, daisies, and big blooms that almost looks like a strange gerbera daisies. Pick a color that you like and bounce it off of objects you already have, in my case amethyst — sometimes matching and sometimes contrasting.
Be glad chrysanthemums are cheap. They’re also chic, so go nuts with them this autumn! They’re guaranteed to bring cheer when it seems as if everything else is dying.