Peonies are herbaceous perennials that have huge bright flowers that can be show stealers in the garden during May and June. They are very easy to grow on most soils but prefer one with some clay in it provided it is well drained. Plant in full sun or partial shade. Purchase bare root plants in the dormant season or containerised ones at any time.
Tree peonies are usually container grown and
come as grafted plants. Normally plant the herbaceous types so the dormant buds
are just below the surface as they do not like deep planting and this would
inhibit flowering for a few years.
|Peony Shima Nishiki|
Prepare soil by digging over and adding plenty of compost or well rotted manure as they can be gross feeders to support large strong healthy leaves. Plant the tree peonies with the graft union a few inches below the surface. This will encourage it to grow its own roots and prevent the top breaking off at the graft union in strong gales. Deep planting will also discourage suckering from the rootstock, but if disaster occurs do not dig them out and discard as the rootstock can also flower and be very attractive. If the tree peony has been propagated from cuttings, then plant at the same depth as in the pot. All peonies are best supported with strong staking as the huge flowers are heavy and will bend over if not supported and suffer from soil splashing the blooms in wet weather.
The flowers can be very impressive as a cut flower in a vase, and some varieties are lightly scented.
Good varieties for scent include the pale pink Alexander Fleming and Raspberry Sundae, white Festiva Maxima and Krinkled White, the pale yellow Honey Gold and pink Tom Eckhardt.
Peonies do not seem to suffer from many pests and diseases but occasionally mildew may affect them, as can botrytis of the flowers and leaves in a wet year. Remove any infections to prevent the disease from spreading. Sometimes caterpillars can eat at the foliage, but are easily spotted so just
remove them by hand. Ants sometimes
swarm onto the large flower buds as they often have a sticky secretion but soon
disappear once the flowers open.
|Peony Sarah Bernhardt|
Herbaceous peonies well worth growing include the red Big Ben, Bunker Hill, General MacMahon and Karl Rosenfield, the white Avalanche and the very popular pale pink Sara Bernhardt and Pink Parfait. My favourite is the huge flowered pink with yellow centre Doreen.
Tree peonies are not so common being frequently sold as the more expensive grafted plant, and also come in a huge variety of colours. Tree peonies are actually deciduous medium sized shrubs. Select a sheltered spot, as although they are perfectly hardy, a late frost can damage the flowers. Paeonia delavayi has maroon flowers with yellow centres, Shima Nishiki has red flowers, Alice Harding is a double with lemon yellow flowers, Hai Huang has lemon flowers, Duchess of Kent is another double with deep rose red flowers
Propagation of the herbaceous types is usually by division of the tuberous roots during the dormant season. They re-establish very easily and often small roots left behind will grow into a new plant. Established clumps are best lifted and divided after about four or five years, though often some clumps left untouched can continue to grow, flourish and flower for many years to come.
A dressing of a general fertiliser in spring will feed the hungry plant and a mulch of well rotted compost will help the plant through a dry summer, but keep the mulch away from the crown. Water the plants in the summer if dry weather persists. In late summer cut back the foliage and add to the compost heap. As peonies do not emerge till late spring they can be under planted with some snowdrops, aconites and crocus as companion planting to give a good display in early spring.
|Picking baby beetroot|
Wee jobs to do this week
Root vegetables grown from seed are often thinned out in stages. Beetroot has the first thinning to about an inch apart. Small roots then develop but as final thinning leaves roots spaced four to six inches apart, these final thinnings can gives beetroot a perfect size for a crop of baby beet. The leaves are also young fresh and tender so make a perfect and very healthy drink once liquidised. The red stems and fresh green leaves can also be sliced and sautéed in a pan for a few minutes with a little butter and garlic. They are packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.END