The garden cosmos flower, Cosmos bipinnatus; AKA Mexican aster

Hailing from the volcanic mountainous region of central Mexico, the common garden cosmos, Cosmos bipinnatus, is one of the most widespread annual flowers in the world, being found on all continents except Antarctica. From its humble origins it has been cultivated and bred for less than a hundred years and yet today the variety of flower forms available is truly staggering.

Cosmos field
Cosmos bipinnatus growing in full sun puts on an incredible show. This field is in Kyushu, Japan.

Cosmos bipinnatus is a weedy annual herb found on disturbed fields and roadsides across the globe. Growing from 0.3 – 2.0 meters or more high, it tends to have a rambling habit, particularly as it grows taller. The complex pinnate leaves are composed of very narrow leaflets that are twice divided (bipinnate) and held in opposing pairs, giving them an airy, feather-like appearance.

The flower heads are borne singly on long stems (peduncles) held well above the plant, are usually 5-7 centimeters across, but can be up to 10 centimeters in selected varieties. Flower heads are made up of two flower types – small centrally clustered disc flowers surrounded by a ring of ray flowers with lobed petals (corollas) up to 5 centimeters long. Disc flowers typically are bright yellow and the corollas of the ray flowers range from pure white thru various shades of pink and purple. The dark brown, elongated seed is produced in large quantity, enough to make this a potential weed in warmer climates.

Cosmos bipinnatus leaf
The name “bipinnatus’ means twice pinnate, a reference to the twice divided foliage of the species as seen in this young plant.

The natural distribution of C. bipinnatus is somewhat obscure with most sources (including efloras) stating “Mexico and the southwestern U.S.”, though in all likelihood it is originally from central Mexico. Regardless, nowadays the species in both its cultivated and self seeding forms can be found all around the globe in open fields, roadsides, or any other human disturbed ground. North of the Mexican border it has been recorded in 36 states of the U.S. as well as two Canadian provinces, where apparently it is self-seeding, at least on some sites. It has also been recorded throughout all of Japan south of Hokkaido, where it is both self-reproducing and cultivated.

So what is the attraction of this short lived herb? It’s irresistible, variably colored flowers of impeccable symmetry, are the obvious answer. It is said they were given the name “cosmos” by Spanish priests who grew them on mission grounds due to the perfect symmetry of the flowering heads (cosmos comes from the Greek word κόσμος, meaning the order of the universe, or the opposite of chaos). Since those early days of cultivation, breeders have taken this lowly annual herb and created an astounding range of flowers.

Keeping up with all the names of varieties that have been made is a large task. Here is a representative list of some of the more well known ones:

Picotée – white petals with pink to red marginal bands.
Sensation Series – large flowers, color varying from carmine through pure white. Average height, up to 2 meters.
Sea Shells – tubular trumpet-like fluted petals in variable shades of pink.
Sonata Series dwarf mix – Fleuroselect Awarded variety with large flowers on a relatively short plant (up to 60 cm). Like the Sensation Series, flower color is variable. Also given the Award of Merit by the Royal Horticultural Society.
Candy Stripe – similar to Picotée with pink to red margins.
Double Take – large, double to semi-double flowers up to 10 cm.
Gloria – bi-color flowers with a dark pink to red center.
Psyche Mix – Semi-double, frilly flowers from burgundy to white color.
Purity – pure white flowered variety.
Pinkie – as the name suggests, a pink flowered variety.
Radiance – flowers with a pink to red center, similar to Gloria.
Dazzler – deep carmine red flowers with yellow centers up to 10 cm.
Cupcakes – petals fused together, forming a bowl shape, white flowered fading to pink.

Pink varieties of Cosmos
Garden cosmos commonly are some shade of pink to lavender. These flowers show a good mix of types, some having narrow petals, some with fused petals, deeply lobed petals, more rounded lobes, and so on.

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The rose garden at Kayoichou Park, Japan Part III

Here is the final installment covering the roses of Kayoichou Park in Fukuoka, Kyushu, Japan. This treatment is by no means comprehensive, rather just representative of the roses to be seen at the garden. To see other roses at the park, check these links: Part I and Part II of the many roses at Kayoichou Park.

So, here is the final set of roses for you to feast your eyes on. Enjoy!

Rosa Sarabande
Rosa ‘Sarabande’ (Meilland, 1957)

Type: floribunda
Flower characteristics: semi-double
Size: 6-8 cm
Fragrance: mild
Color: orange-red with yellow stamens
Parentage: Cocorico x Moulin Rouge
Comments: A lovely, trailing rose great for training as a climber, etc. It has many large clusters of shocking crimson cupped flowers throughout the warm season. Best in USDA zone 6b and higher.

Rosa My Granny
Rosa ‘My Granny’ (Olesen, 1983)

Type: floribunda
Flower characteristics: old fashioned rossette
Size: 5-7 cm
Fragrance: little to mild
Color: medium pink
Parentage: Seedling x The Fairy
Comments: Here’s a neat, small flowered rose with clusters of old fashioned rosette blooms that flower continuously throughout the season. Said to be disease resistant and shade tolerant. It is both cold and heat tolerant as well, growing from USDA zones 5b-9b.

Rosa Diadem
Rosa ‘Diadem’ (Tantau, 1986)

Type: floribunda
Flower characteristics: double
Size: 6-8 cm
Fragrance: mild
Color: pink
Comments: A beautiful continuously flowering rose with generous clusters of smaller blooms. Upright grower to 150 cm tall. Cold and heat tolerant, USDA zones 5b-9b.

Rosa Edelweiss
Rosa ‘Edelweiss’ (Poulsen, 1969)

Continue reading “The rose garden at Kayoichou Park, Japan Part III”

The rose garden at Kayoichou Park, Japan, part II

This article is part II of the types of roses that can be seen at Kayoichou Park, near the City of Fukuoka on the island of Kyushu, Japan. Check here for part I to see a general description of the garden, and of course more rose varieties.

Those wishing to visit the garden can access it by taking the JR train from Hakata Station in Fukuoka City. Get on the Fukuhoku Yutata Line bound for Sasaguri or Nogata and get off at Choujabaru Station (the fourth stop if you’re on the local train, or the second if your on the fast train). During midday around three trains travel per hour and leave from platform 8. The current fare is 230 yen one way from Hakata. The park is a 10-12 minute walk from Choujabaru station. The best flower viewing is in mid-May.

On with the tour…

Rosa Marjorie Fair
Rosa ‘Marjorie Fair’ (Harkness, 1978)

Type: modern shrub/hybrid musk
Flower characteristics: single, white eye
Size: 4-5 cm
Fragrance: mild
Color: red blend, white eye
Parentage: Ballerina x Baby Furaux
Comments: Bushy shrub type with abundant, large flower clusters. Also called R. ‘Red Ballerina’ and R. ‘Red Yesterday’

Rosa Old Timer
Rosa ‘Old Timer’ (Kordes, 1969)

Type: hybrid tea
Flower characteristics: double
Size: 10-12+ cm
Fragrance: light licorice
Color: orange to orange blend
Comments: Large flowered hybrid tea rose with upright habit. Flowers are said to be larger in cool weather. Also known as R. ‘Coppertone’ and R. ‘Old Time’

Rosa Playboy
Rosa ‘Playboy’ (Crocker, 1976)

Type: floribunda
Flower characteristics: single, ruffled
Size: 8-10 cm
Fragrance: light and sweet
Color: yellow-red blend
Parentage: City of Leeds x (Chanelle x Piccadilly)
Comments: Wonderful bushy rose with clusters of orange-yellow flowers with yellow stamens, fading to red. Hardy to USDA zone 5. Also known as R. ‘Cheerio’.

To see this garden in full flower in 4K resolution please watch this video:

Continue reading “The rose garden at Kayoichou Park, Japan, part II”

The rose garden at Kayoichou Park, Japan, part I

Kayoichou Park is situated in Kasuya Town on the edge of Fukuoka City on the island of Kyushu, Japan, and is host to a wide variety of sports facilities, public green spaces, and gardens. The park is arranged around a large central reservoir with a number of peninsulas, coves, and even a small island, all accessible by large, paved pathways. The park is famous for its cherry blossoms in spring, and on the lake’s largest promontory there sits a 1,300 square meter (~14,000 sq. ft.) rose garden boasting 180 rose varieties, comprising 2,600 individual plants. Founded in 2001, it has quickly become a favorite local flower viewing spot.

standard tree rose
There are a number of beautifully kept standard (tree style) roses at Kayoichou Park.

The plants are in peak flower from early to mid May, with a second, less spectacular flowering period occurring in October. Summers in Fukuoka are too hot and wet to allow good flowering for roses, and winters are too cold. The garden is situated in a zone 9 climate, but overall experiences annual temperatures comparable to Atlanta, Georgia or Charleston, South Carolina.

The garden features several rose tunnels, a number of smaller rose gardens scattered around the lake, many standard (tree) roses up to 2 meters tall, as well as the main garden itself consisting of tiered beds of plants easily accessed by paved trails throughout.

Roses in the garden are of many types including hybrid tea, floribunda, grandiflora, miniature, polyantha, and large flowered climbing varieties. All in all the hybrid tea and floribunda types seem to steal the show. This article is the first part showcasing some of the roses you can see at this modest sized, yet comprehensive garden.

Rosa Audrey Hepburn
Rosa ‘Audrey Hepburn’ (Twomey, 1991)

Type: hybrid tea
Flower characteristics: double
Size: 8-10 cm
Fragrance: mild, fruity
Color: light pink
Parentage: Evening Star x Seedling
Comments: Lovely, large flowered, upright growing shrub. Hardy to USDA zone 6 and colder with winter protection.

Rosa Lake Kayoichou
Rosa ‘Lake Kayoichou’ (2002)

Continue reading “The rose garden at Kayoichou Park, Japan, part I”

Japanese chrysanthemum flower festivals, kiku matsuri

Japan’s most famous fall flower surly is kiku, known in the west as the “common garden chrysanthemum” or more simply mum. As with virtually anything Japanese, kiku are neither truly Japanese in origin, nor simple to talk about. It is said that they were first brought to Japan from China as a medicine, coupled with a tale about them bringing long life (we’re talking 100s of years).

Over the centuries kiku became popular garden plants and their status grew, to the point that the kiku flower even became the crest of the Japanese royal family by the Kamakura Period. Through the intervening centuries this plant has been cultivated across the world with whole societies devoted to its care and appreciation. In this article I will focus on the plant mostly from a Japanese perspective, with special emphasis on the wonderful kiku festivals, called kiku matsuri, that pop-up around Japan every fall.

Spider Mums Daruma Style
These kudamono kiku (spider mum) are grown in the fukusukezukuri style – one flower on a tiny plant.

First a bit about the plant. A name batted around a lot in the literature is Chrysanthemum x morifolium. According to Kew this is an unresolved name (though oddly they accept C. morifolium as valid) and synonymous with Dendranthema x grandiflora. Regardless, this name is the one most often applied to “common garden mums” as well as kiku. Looking at the flowers any fool can see something is up however, given the extreme variation in their form and size.

Regardless of taxonomic difficulties, it is well known that hundreds of mum varieties exist, spanning an incredible range of flower and growth forms. In the west no less than 13 classes of flowers are recognized, and within Japan at least 7 basic types exist (with numerous sub-classes). More broadly, the genus contains somewhere around 40 accepted species, all Eurasian in origin, with their center of distribution in China.

Interestingly, though the plant has been bred in the far east for centuries, it is well known that they are strongly self-incompatible (common within the Aster family), meaning you cannot self pollinate a plant to produce viable seeds. Nevertheless, most of the range of flower types known today were developed using traditional techniques (e.g. selective breeding). Also interesting is that despite the fact that C. x morifolium cultivars are polyploids (hexaploid, 2N=54) the precise origin of this type remains unknown.

The large flowered types are called ougiku (large kiku), and are grown and displayed as single flowers. The most common Japanese classes are atsumono, kudamono, and ichimonji. Other flower types include chuukiku, kogiku, pottomamu, and kotenkiku based on flower size, breeding and form, and historical context. These flower types should not be confused however with the training styles mentioned below: fukusukezukuri, sanbonjitate, darumazukuri, senrinzaki, kengaizukuri, bonsaizukuri, and kikuningyo.

The most massive type of flowers are known in Japan as atsumono (literally meaning ‘thick object”), also known as the “irregular incurve” class in the west. These are the giants of kiku flowers, with each up to 20 cm across. To achieve this flower size, only one flower can be allowed to form per stem through a process called “dis-budding” (the removal of all buds except the terminal one). Furthermore, there are different styles of how the plants are trained to grow. In one case just a single stem is allowed to develop with just one terminal, giant blossom on a very small plant (fukusukezukuri). Another taller form has three flowers growing on three stems per plant (sanbonjitate), each balancing the others according to old Chinese belief. Each flower represents one vital aspect – heaven (ten), earth (chi), and human (jin). A smaller stature version of sanbonjitate is called darumazukuri.

WhiteSanbonjitate Mum
The large flowered kiku type called atsumono are typically grown in groups of three. This training style is known as sanbonjitate with each flower representing balancing elements: heaven, earth, and human.

During their development these flowers are painstakingly hand crafted, by manipulating the flower parts (florets) with thin sticks, thus bending and training them into the desired shape (often upward, creating a dense ball). In the west large flowered types like these have been given the unfortunate name of “football mum” – such a base name for a flower as regal as these!

Spider mum white
Another large flowered kiku is called kudamono, meaning “tube object”, and is better known in the west as a spider mum.

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The Japanese iris garden at Tenmangu Shrine, Dazaifu, Kyushu, Japan

Just south of Fukuoka City on the island of Kyushu, Japan is the small city of Dazaifu. This town is saturated with history, once serving as a major political center, and hosts one of Kyushu’s most famous and visited shrines, Tenmangu. The shrine is well known for its extensive collection of ume trees, Prunus mume, and is a focal point for school kids to come and pray for good luck on their exams. Almost never is the shrine or nearby streets and shops free of tourists, both native and foreign.

One of the shrine’s less known features is its large pool garden full of the Japanese iris (Iris ensata) that explodes into flower right in step with the monsoon rains of early June. Known as hanashoubu in Japanese, today many hundreds of varieties exist, from pure whites to pinks, every shade of blue, rich purples, the whole spectrum of intermediate shades of these, plus multicolored and intricately patterned flowers. The center is commonly marked with yellow, a feature that hearkens back to the wild plant that can still be found in wetlands over much of southern Japan, I. ensata v. ensata, called nobanashoubu in Japanese.

Iris Pool Garden
The iris pool garden at Tenmangu Shrine, Dazaifu, Kyushu, Japan is brimming full of Iris ensata this wet June morning – right in step with the summer monsoon.

In Tenmangu’s iris garden one can get a eyeful of the variety that have been produced over the last several hundred years. Within the Japanese cultivars there are three primary groupings – Edo (hailing from Tokyo under its old name), Higo (developed under the auspices of the Daimyo of Kumamoto, Hitoshi Hosokawa), and Ise (improved cultivars created in the Ise-Matsusaka area of Mie Prefecture). A more obscure group hails from Ayame park in Nagai City, Yamagata Prefecture, and are called the Nagai group. They were rediscovered after the breeding efforts that took place in Edo (old Tokyo) and are thought to be closer to the original wild plants. In other parts of the world, notably America and Belgium, new lines of Iris enstata have been bred in recent years and are becoming popular even in Japan.

What follows is a pictorial essay for the most part. Naming of Japanese plants is often bewilderingly complex and idiosyncratic (even to Japanese people!), though the names of individual cultivars will be indicated with each picture along with their cultivar group. All pictures in this article were taken at Tenmangu Shrine in Dazaifu City.

Iris enstata garden

This Japanese iris garden, though far from being the biggest in Japan, is still chock full of Iris enstata, known as Shoubu in Japanese. Plants grow in circular cement planters year round.

Dazaifu Tenmangu Iris Garden

A wider view of the garden reveals its quaint setting among the hills and surrounding forests of Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) and hardwoods. Even the monsoon rains won’t keep flower lovers away from the display.

Iris enstata Yorunoniji
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A Japanese azalea temple garden, Daikozenji

On the border of Saga and Fukuoka Prefectures in northern Kyushu, is the “tsutsuji temple”, Daikozenji. Tsutsuji is the general term used for azaleas in the Japanese language, and this temple is stuffed full of them such that in late April and early May the place is aflame with their flowers. During this season thousands flock to the wooded slopes where the temple sits, nestled in a forest of cedar and maple trees, to view the spectacle. This temple has a history dating back nearly 1300 years, and is associated with the Tendai Sect, a form of Mahayana Buddhism. The various temple buildings are built at the base of Chigiriyama (“Pledge or Promise Mountain”).

Though the temple is a tourist attraction these days, it remains nevertheless a religious sanctuary where prayers are given to ward off evil, to ensure traffic safety, and to keep families safe. As with other Buddhist temples in Japan, death and funeral rites are a major focus as well (compared to Shinto shrines which are involved with traditional marriages).

Azalea Temple Garden
Daikozenji, the “azalea temple” is crammed full of azaleas and maple trees. The visual impact in late April is astounding.

Nowadays Daikozenji is best known for its mass plantings of azalea bushes – all 50,000 of them! The temple grounds cover some 75,000 square meters, or just about 18.5 acres. Much of the area behind the temple buildings (the bulk of the property) is literally covered in azaleas under a canopy of Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica), hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa), various native hardwoods (notably Castanopsis sieboldii), and a variety of maples (said to number 500 in all).

Paths lead up the mountain to various scenic points, including one hill that is resplendent with azaleas under a thin canopy of trees – the main spectacle of the garden. Elsewhere the pattern is pretty simple – forest under-planted with azalea bushes, most standing one to two meters tall, in a near continuous patch. Here and there one can see the native Rhododendron known as shakunage in Japanese, R. degronianum, as well as two Viburnums, V. japonicum and V. plicatum.

Just behind the temple buildings is a little vale that serves as the center of the garden. Here the cedar trees are bit larger and maples abound, creating a cathedral-like atmosphere. Here too are the ever present azaleas, viburnums, and a smattering of other plants including Calanthe orchids. Plant diversity is highest in this area though this garden is not known for great variety. Here too are ten wooden flower viewing houses, one of which is open to the public during flowering season. The other nine are rented out for private parties. They sit on platforms hanging off the hillside and have windows all around allowing for excellent views. Small streams gurgle down past them into pools full of koi. Without a doubt this part of the garden is the most magical.

Azalea Hill Daikozenji
One of Daikozenji’s featured attractions is a hillside literally covered in azaleas under a high canopy of Japanese cedar trees.

The main group of azaleas began to be planted during the late Taisho period (1912-1926) and by 1950 Daikozenji became famous for its spring flowering display. In 1957 it was given its nickname “azalea temple” (tsutsuji tera) by Kurume City’s Rotary Club. Since that time its fame has grown and now is one of those must see places in the local region. It’s parking lot is huge, stuffed with private vehicles and tour buses during the main flowering period (late April) and again in mid November (when the maple trees show their fall colors).

Check out this video of Daikozenji in late April – in it you’ll see hirado tsutsuji in flower, Calanthe sieboldii and C. discolor, and the fresh green leaves of spring:

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