Thursday, May 16, 2013

Chrysanthemum Savvy

A beautiful spring day in May. Temperatures expected to reach the high 70s in the Washington D.C. area. Today simply cried out for a fluttery, feminine confection… and I had the perfect solution. Never mind that chrysanthemums are a fall flower.

Despite originating in China, the name "chrysanthemum" is derived from the Greek words chrysos (gold) and anthemon (flower), according to Wikipedia. First cultivated by the Chinese in 15th Century BC, chrysanthemums were brought to Europe in the 1600s and to North America in 1798 when ship captain John Stevens imported a dark purple variety as an attraction for the Elysian Fields of Hoboken, New Jersey.

Painting of chrysanthemums
from 1902
Besides their incredible beauty and myriad varieties, powdered chrysanthemum is a natural insecticide and a potent mosquito repellent. The corolla makes fragrant tea and a single petal at the bottom of a wine glass is thought to encourage a long and healthy life. In Japan a "Festival of Happiness" is held to honor the chrysanthemum each year. Long a symbol of optimism and joy, the chrysanthemum is November’s birth flower. This fabled blossom is revered for its culinary qualities in China. Indeed, I was treated to an digestif of simmered chrysanthemum greens at the home of friends this past January (see Hot Pot Dinner).

Today was all about the chrysanthemums on my dress, a vintage one-piece in sheerest polyester by Nostalgia, which I purchased in the 1970s when I worked for JCPenney in northern California. I was reading an article just yesterday about a woman who had owned a favorite garment for so long that she had repaired it twice over the years, yet it remained a cherished staple in her closet. I feel the same way about this old but much beloved rag, which eventually became so frayed at the neckline that several years ago I had black bias tape sewn around the collar to create a protective (and flaw-disguising) new trim.

Today’s balmy weather was ideal for strappy heels -- I pulled on black platform sandals by City Streets. Having played up the luscious pinks and golds in the floral pattern the last time I wore this dress, today I decided to highlight the green in the chrysanthemum leaves. So I dug around in my jewelry box until I found a delicate necklace of pearls and sea-glass from Fire & Ice Jewelers of Baltimore (, which I paired with vintage carved Chrysanthemum earrings that belonged to my grandmother. I finished my look with an antique Native American bracelet of rustic stones set in etched silver that my mother found in California in the 1930s, a bracelet-watch of iridescent abalone that I bought from about five years ago, and a fun headband sporting a feathery black fabric blossom which fit perfectly beneath a wide-brimmed straw sunhat that I purchased last year at the Maryland Spring Home & Garden Show at the state fairgrounds.

The bold blooms on my filmy dress garnered plenty of approving glances as I strode past politicians kibitzing outside the Capitol Hill Club on my way to the Library of Congress for a day of research on behalf of my employer. I believe all observers would agree that these gentle blossoms are as appropriate in spring as they are in the brisk days of autumn.

"Flowers… are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues all the utilities of the world."
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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