Creating a Life of Plenty

A Profusion of Peonies!

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Well the Peony bushes have really provided a show this year. I had to capture their spectacular beauty as a garden plant and as a cut flower in this blog.

Many people believe that a potager is for vegetables only. I believe, as the traditional French do, that the potager should provide both food and flowers to the home. I am, however, not a firm believer in a traditional cutting garden. First, we do not have that kind of space and I prefer to have blooms in the garden and on the table so a more organic, inclusive plan was needed.

I have a border of Peonies flanking the potager and a friend recently gave me starts for native sunflowers that I hope will provide additional cut flowers in the late summer (I doubt that we will get anything this year, but they should fill in and provide more in the coming years). In addition, we have two young lilac bushes that are already providing a bouquet or two per season. I look forward to their maturity and many more luscious lavender bouquets in the future.

We have some stunning climbing lace cap hydrangeas that provide the most interesting low profile cut flowers for a silver julep cup or bow. In addition we have purple and yellow irises that provide bursts of color to the table in early spring and lilies that will give orange and yellow sparkle to our summer outdoor entertaining.

But back to the gorgeous Peony; Plant taxonomy classifies peony plants under the genus, Paeonia. Within the Paeonia genus, there are various species and cultivars. The most commonly planted species in North America is Paeonia lactiflora, sometimes referred to as “Chinese peony plants.”

Peony plants bear attractive, glossy green foliage that reaches 2′-3′ in height with a similar spread. But their popularity is due mainly to their flowers. The most striking peony flowers are the highly fragrant, massive doubles, usually pink, red or white. Other colors and flower types do exist, however. There’s even a hybrid with yellow flowers that I would love to find and plant (Yellow is one of my favorite colors). Peony plants bloom in late spring or early summer. Peony plants are generally indigenous to and thrive in China, Europe and the Western U.S.

If you like them and plan to start your own peonies, you need to know the right growing conditions. Peony plants prefer full sun. An exception to this rule applies to growers in zones 8 and 9, where, due the summer’s intense heat, peony plants may profit from partial shade. Grow peony plants in a soil that is fertile and well-drained, with a pH of 6.0 – 7.0. Even in the dreadful clay soil of central Ohio, ours do very well with a little soil augmentation (sand, peat, compost).

Since the peonies get so large and profuse after only a year or so; support peony plants with stakes or hoops, as you would tomatoes. The large blooms get heavy, especially after a rain. Trimming back and disposing of the foliage in autumn helps prevent the disease, botrytis blight. Other diseases may cause a gradual decline in peony plants. If you see one specimen is stunted while the peony plants around it are doing fine, remove and destroy that plant, lest it infect the others. Mulch (2″-3″) peony plants in the fall, removing the mulch in spring.

The stunning blooms and transcendent fragrance of a peony is one of the great pleasures of the spring garden. I hope you find a spot and plant some right away so you can enjoy them too. And also look around your yard or potager to find spots to tuck in a few other cutting plants to fill your home with color and fragrance all season long!

Happy Gardening!

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