Herbaceous perennials are the group of plants that die down completely in the winter but their rhizomes or bulbs stay in the soil and surprise us with a new flush of leaves and flowers next summer. Quite a few perennials have reached their flowering stage by the second week in June, but few can surpass the elegance and beauty of the peony. With its large and vibrant coloured flowers it can be crowned as the queen of perennials. As a cut flower they are usually only available in specialized florists and are rather expensive – therefore the best way to have them in your home is to grow them yourself!
Botanical Name: Paeonia . Common Name : Peony
The peony has two main flowering shapes: there is the double variety with a rosette of many ruffled petals, and a single variety with a few large petals surrounding a small central rosette. The latter tend to be smaller in overall size but the plant will usually be covered in bloom whilst with the double variety each individual flower is larger but there are not so many blooms per plant.
Most gardeners tie a string around the plant and hold it up with a few bamboo sticks at approx. 45cm. above the ground, this helps to keep the flowers from blowing over in the wind as they often get top heavy. It also will keep the plant tidy through the summer, otherwise, the plant begins to sprawl in all directions and can look untidy, especially after flowering.
An interesting part of this flower, is the way they die, the petals don’t wither on the stem like other flowers, instead they just give up! You will come down one morning and see all the petals have just fallen straight beneath the flower stem –part of the joy of a peonies in a vase is to see this happening! Warning! Clear the petals of the table if you have children that are likely to taste them, as if they are ingested the flowers and leaves can cause mild stomach upset (as do many other plants).
There is also a tree peony which is a shrub that can grow up to 5ft . I once had two of them and was expecting a tree covered in bloom, but they died on me before they reached the flowering stage – they are available from specialist nurseries and are relatively expensive , but since they seem to need winter protection I would leave them as a ‘Don’t Buy’.
Buying and Planting guide:
The most common and economical way of buying this plant is to buy a bare root at the beginning of spring and plant it in good garden soil enriched with compost, the advice for peonies is don’t bury them as they don’t like more than 3cm. of soil on top of their roots. Ready potted are also available all year round. It grows best in full sun but will tolerate some shade. Once planted as a bare root it will take a few years to flower profusely but I think it is worth the wait for this voluptuous display! Expert advice is to leave these plants alone as they don’t like disturbance, even to divide the clumps to increase your stock is frowned upon as this can cause the plants to die. If you were to ask – how do the nurseries manage to split their clumps and sell them – the answer will be that the nurserymen are specialists and they know how to do it. ! So I would say- call yourself a specialist and give it a try if you wish!
Money saving tip:
Garden Centres are desperate to empty their shelves of summer flowering bulbs, before they are past their sell by date, many are reduced by up to 70%, I picked a bag of dahlia tubers reduced from £5.99 to £1.79 and a net of gladioli reduced from £4.99 to £1.49 !
But beware: When buying lily bulbs ensure that the bulbs have not dried out and are not flaky and brittle, also when buying dahlia tubers ensure that a piece of last years stem is attached to the tuber otherwise they will not grow.
If you live near a Notcutts Garden Centre they have a half price sale on YEOMAN cutting tools, Yeoman tools are always a best buy and at half price you can’t go wrong!
Enjoy your gardening week!
Next week : Plant Out, Now or Never!