Joel Greer, a private pilot, retired real estate developer and part-time farmer, never thought much about decorating the landscape around his Taneytown farm when he began raising chrysanthemums.
But that's what he did.
Greer has grown 12,000 chrysanthemums for the past two years along Old Taneytown Road, covering his acre-sized front lawn like a brightly colored quilt.
"It's absolutely gorgeous," said Jean Masters of Taylorsville, who stopped recently with her husband, Edward, to admire the view and purchase some of the mums.
This is the peak time of year for buying and admiring chrysanthemums, a flower that thrives on just the right mix of sunlight and darkness.
"We figured they're worth trying," said Tony DiVenti, who was at Greer's farm Friday to load up a cart with yellow and purple mums.
DiVenti, 33, an engineer for Towson-based Black and Decker, said he hopes to have better luck with his mums than with the azaleas that he and his wife planted in front of their Sykesville home a few years ago.
The summer's drought killed the azaleas, he said.
"A lot of what we had couldn't survive that drought," said his wife, Tara DiVenti, a 33-year-old Howard County schoolteacher.
Kate Thurston, president of the 40-member Chesapeake Chrysanthemum Society, said her group joined with the Potomac Chrysanthemum Society last weekend for their annual chrysanthemum show and exhibit at the Brookside Gardens in Wheaton.
"They're exquisite flowers," she said.
Thurston, who has been raising mums for seven years, said the group meets year-round, but chrysanthemum shows are traditionally held in the fall because that's when the flower peaks.
Chrysanthemums generally start to show color in early September, and in a mild fall will continue to bloom until early November, Greer said.
They bloom best about this time of year -- when there are 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness.
"It's all based on the amount of light you give them," Thurston said.
Chrysanthemums have a long and storied past. Their roots in Asia go back 2,000 years. Along with the cherry blossom, they are a national flower of Japan, and are the floral emblem of the imperial family.
They were introduced to England in the 18th century, and their 13 varieties range from spider-shaped plants to some that are the size of soccer balls.
But growing mums can be tricky, with the types of seed, soiland sunlight all playing parts in what makes a good chrysanthemum.
Insects can attack them. Droughts can kill them.
"You have to watch over them all the time," said Linda Sell, who works for Greer.
Greer said that the summer's drought didn't hurt his crop.
"Irrigation spikes" or hoses attached to each of his 12,000 pots fed the plants water twice a day and provided fertilizer when it was needed, he said.
Greer's mums came from seedlings purchased from greenhouses in Pennsylvania.
Greer acknowledges he got into mums for practical reasons.
"They're not too labor-intensive and they seemed like a good plant to raise," said Greer, 69.
The mums are $3 a plant, with discounts for those who buy four or more.
The cash will help pay for the maintenance of his Antebellum home, an 1825 mansion with a six-column front porch that looks as if it was used in "Gone With the Wind."
Along with the chrysanthemums, Greer has 62,000 chickens and 30 head of beef cattle to keep him busy on the 108-acre farm.
Greer said he plans to expand next year to the field next to the tract where he grows mums. That will mean another 12,000 mums, for a total of 24,000.
Despite the expansion, his operation will be smaller than the one on a farm near Williamsburg, Va., where he said 80,000 mums are raised.
"That's a lot of mums," he said.