Donna Doornbos is an optician in Paso Robles, but at her home in the hills of Atascadero, she is a chrysanthemum farmer.
It all started three years ago when one of her clients, Cindy McCoy, brought her alarge vase of colorful chrysanthemums. Donna, who had done very little gardening, asked Cindy if they were hard to grow. When the response was, “You can’t kill ’em,” Donna decided this was the plant for her.
Donna now has more than 50 different varieties of “mums” growing in a greenhouse, acovered nursery and her front yard. Her husband, Dan, a lathing contractor, built the greenhouse from 20 French doors he recycled from a local winery remodel project. He had realized after the first year of her chrysanthemum project that this was more than just a passing interest for Donna!
The colorful mums were all started from cuttings of originals obtained from Cindy McCoy or the ‘King’s Mums’ catalogue. The cuttings were made in March and planted in a pot or the garden later in the spring.
To enhance optimum flowering and foliage health for her plants, Donna added a fivetiered worm composting bin full of red wigglers — a Christmas present from Dan — to her garden area. The worm castings create rich organic compost from kitchen scraps, while the liquid from the bin becomes a nutrient-filled compost tea for feeding plants.
Donna likes the hardiness and the ease of care required to produce such beautiful fall flowers. The blooming season brightens up the cooler days of fall, peaking in October and November. One of the advantages of chrysanthemum blooms is that they last a long time, both on the plant and in a bouquet. After the bloom, she prunes them to about 3 inches and covers them with straw for the winter.
Donna was surprised to discover that there are 13 classes of mums, each with a distinctive shape and bloom pattern.
“The mums in the markets and nurseries are mostly of one type, and represent only a small portion of the interesting mum varieties,” she said. The more she learned, the more she developed a passion for mums.
She researched the history of the chrysanthemum, learning that the first plants were cultivated in Asia, often depicted in the crests of royal families and in fine painted Japanese china.
Donna hopes to develop her hobby into an established California mum farm.
At present, she hosts a fall plant sale and a starter sale in the spring. Her enthusiasm is contagious! For her, ‘Mum’s the word!’