Here's a common scene in fall: cheap mums! What's the deal? It's like the McDonaldification of the fall chrysanthemum. Yesterday I hit two places to see what's for sale - one, an independent garden center, the other a discount place that sells fruits, vegetables and plants super-cheap.

John Lynch, owner of  Secret Garden, the garden center on Ridge Avenue in Roxborough, laments the fact that his customers aren't interested in fall planting, even though this is a great time of year for perennials, shrubs and trees. "They only want mums," he says.


Mums (which he sells for $5.99 or 3 for $15) and cornstalks and pumpkins, that is.

Just down the street at R&R Produce and Garden Center, Donna Smosmy was behind the cash register, ringing up bags of cheap broccoli and mums, mums, mums. "They come in to get mums," she says with a shrug. Five for $10.

Mums have always been a fall flower, but starting in the 1980s, growers began to mass produce and market the garden mums you see everywhere today. They're as prevalent as cheap poinsettias at Christmastime. And while some are high-quality, a lot aren't. They're made to be used and tossed.

You might argue what's the harm? Not many people feel like planting their potted mums, any more than they want to nurture a spent poinsettia through the winter into the new year. But some try.

And some, like Galen Goss of the National Chrysanthemum Society, are of two minds. On the one hand, he says it's good that mums are out there in front of so many people. On the other hand, they're missing out on all the really interesting varieties of chrysanthemum. "For most people, this is all they know," he says.