Three popular types of peonies include the “scrumdiddlyumptious” (left), the Julia Rose (upper right) and the Lady Alexander Duff (bottom right). Photos submitted.

SPRING IN THE GARDEN – Colourful peonies an asset to any garden

Ellen Presley

Special to The Record

The peony is a classic garden plant that adds a bit of nostalgia and charm to the garden. This stunningly beautiful plant has been revered for thousands of years and symbolizes romance, prosperity, good fortune, and a happy marriage. Prized for their large colourful and often fragrant blooms, they make excellent cut flowers and are often featured in paintings.

The three types of peonies are the herbaceous, the tree peony, and the Itoh series. They are all deer- and rabbit-resistant, drought-tolerant once established, and will attract butterflies to your garden. Give them a sunny spot with good drainage.

Herbaceous peonies are low maintenance, can live 50 to 100 years, die back to the ground each winter and re-emerge in the spring. Their large blooms often need staking or a support ring to hold them up. There are hundreds of cultivars and the colors and blooms are stupendous.

Two award-winning ladies are ‘Sarah Bernhardt,’ which is a wonderful beloved peony with large double rose-pink blossoms whose inner ruffled petals are occasionally flecked with raspberry pink, and ‘Lady Alexander Duff,’ which is an heirloom variety introduced in 1902. Starting with deep pink buds that open into huge rose-shaped blooms of pale pink ruffled petals. Both are lush, outrageously gorgeous and feminine.

The best double deep red peony is the award-winning ‘Red Charm,’ which is a magnificent ruffled bomb-type merlot red with a sweet, spicy fragrance. The blooms start early in the season and last seemingly forever in the garden – definitely a show stopper.

Tree peonies are slow-growing woody shrubs that can reach 4-10 feet, have larger blooms than their herbaceous counterpart, and need less sun. They will bloom longer and do not require staking. The lovely lavender ‘Kamata nishiki’ is always a favorite.

In 1948, Dr. Toichi Itoh successfully crossbred an herbaceous peony and a tree peony producing the Itoh peony which has the leaves and flowers of a tree peony but die back to the ground in the fall like an herbaceous plant. These plants have longer lasting giant blooms, sturdy stems that don’t need staking and are prolific bloomers (often getting a second set of blooms). Shorter than tree peonies, they grow three by four feet and are fabulous as a cut flower.

The stunning ‘Julia Rose’ showcases a mix of single to semi-double blooms which bud as a cherry red, then open to orange and apricot with a delicate purple flushed edge and then fades to yellow. And new for us this year, is ‘Scrumdiddlyumptious’ which has large, subtly fragrant semi-double creamy yellow blooms with a pink blush. I love the name and it promises to be a beauty.

I came across a charming story, wherein a fellow was having a dinner party and gave a peony blossom to one of his guests, in the hopes of igniting romance between them. Apparently, it worked, as the lady soon became his wife and their love for each other and peonies grew.

Now, I can’t promise that peonies will ignite the romance in your life, but it’s worth a try. Happy gardening!

Ellen Presley is the owner of Anderton Nursery


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