August 24, 2011
Time to Order Peonies
Along with bulbs, autumn is the time to plant bare root peonies. I have a few on order already: the herbaceous 'Kansas' from White Flower Farm and two 'Capital Red' tree peonies from Cricket Hill Garden. Last year I planted several from Swenson Gardens. Above and below are pictures of the first bloom from 'Paula Fay', which I picked up in a pot at Home Depot this spring. Once the plant matures, the blooms should show more of the yellow anthers in the middle.
I've gone peony-crazy in the past year. For a while I held back on buying any because I thought they all flopped over while blooming. But then I spent some time on the Swenson Gardens website and picked out a bunch of herbaceous peonies that don't need staking to stand up straight. I also splurged on a couple of herbaceous-tree hybrids, known as Itoh or intersectional peonies, and these plants don't need staking either. Finally, I decided to attempt some tree peonies (no staking!) from Cricket Hill. I've enjoyed looking at the gorgeous peony pictures at Peony's Envy and might order a few tree peonies from them in a few years. The floppy peonies that friends have given me will grow in the cutting garden and be enjoyed in vases. Oh, and I brought home a couple of potted peonies from my local nursery this spring. Yeah, totally peony-crazy.
Besides the staking problem, the other drawback to peonies is that they only bloom for a few weeks in late spring/early summer (they are hardy in USDA zones 2-8). But I've realized that everblooming plants with large flowers require A LOT of deadheading. I don't have time to keep up with too much of that, so I'm going to plan my gardens to enjoy different flowers at different seasons. Long-blooming plants that don't need deadheading (like 'Rozanne' hardy geraniums) are certainly welcome, too. Above is a no-name red peony that came from my husband's grandmother's garden after she passed away.
Peonies make fabulous cut flowers, lasting a week or so in the vase. Above is a bloom from 'Petite Elegance', one of those non-staking herbaceous peonies from Swenson Gardens. Peony foliage is a nice addition to the garden even after the flowers fade. During the summer, peonies are somewhat drought tolerant (though they'll grow more leaves and flowers with regular water, especially during the first few years). Peonies live a long time without needing dividing, so they're a great addition to the garden of a lazy or overwhelmed (ahem) gardener! They do take a few years to fully settle in and bloom heavily, but after that you can neglect them a bit and still enjoy a show.
These last two photos show the first bloom from 'Casablanca', also from Swenson Gardens. You can see that the giant flower is very upright without a stake. Swenson Gardens recommends that you cut the buds off for the first year or two to allow the plant to establish itself better, but I was too impatient to see the flowers. Eventually this plant will be 40" tall by 48" wide and covered with fragrant, pure-white flowers in June. Then it will provide pretty green leaves as a background for my summer-blooming flowers. Divine!
Here is the slightly out-of-control list of peonies in my yard. Many were purchased within the last year, and some of those haven't bloomed yet. Several have come from friends or relatives. Even the older ones have been set back by transplanting (sorry plants). But in future years I should enjoy an abundance of peony flowers in May and June.
Coral Supreme (coral)
Felix Supreme (magenta)
Grandma Margaret's Red
Grandma Margaret's White
Guidon (mid pink)
Kathy's Pale Pink
Paul M. Wild (crimson/magenta)
Petite Elegance (pale pink)
Pink Parfait (mid pink)
Keiko (mid pink)
Kopper Kettle (copper/peach/rose)
Capital Red/Luoyang Red (to be planted this fall)