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SPRING IN THE GARDEN: Peonies, the king of flowers


By Ellen Presley

Special to the Record

Peonies have been a garden classic for more than 2,000 years and were found in the mountain regions of China.

Originally they were white blooms with a single row of petals and used in medicine. Once gardeners created new colours and varieties, they became the much-coveted flower of royalty.

Now they are available to everyone.

They are deer- and rabbit-resistant and attract butterflies. Great as a specimen plant, or used to create amazing borders or placed randomly in beds; they are equally at home in the city or the cottage garden. They also make an excellent cut flower. With minimal care, they flourish anywhere, but plant away from trees or shrubs as they don’t like to compete for food and moisture. Give them full sun or part shade and rich fertile medium moist well-drained soils.

Although the Itoh and tree peonies tend to steal the show these days, I would like to focus on the classics. The peony was introduced to Europe in the 1800s from Asia and who could resist their magnificent globular opulence of 500 petals in a single bloom. It was astonishing.

Festive Maxima (24-36”) has been a garden favourite since its introduction in 1851. This multiple award winner has lush creamy white petals with an enchanting fragrance of sweet floral notes with hints of citrus and spice. Each large bloom ( 5-7”) forms a mass of double white petals that have flecks of crimson which give it a subtle hint of intrigue.

In 1906 French breeder Lemonie, created Sarah Bernhardt named after the famous French actress. It’s outrageously beautiful in bloom with fragrant 8” wide rose-pink blooms that have ruffled inner petals occasionally flecked with raspberry. An all-time favourite that will take your breath away every spring.

In 1856 French breeder Calot created one of the best white peonies on the market and it has been a favourite of wedding bouquets ever since. The Duchesse de Nemours has well-formed fragrant creamy-white flowers with a delicate yellow center that seems to glow from within.

Sorbet ( discovered in 1987 in a South Korean orchard by Dutch specialist Luc Linkhamer) has large flowers (5-7”) with pink outer petals, a fluffy white inside, pale yellow centre, and a sweet fragrance. The fun description is frilly vanilla cream petals that are sandwiched between layers of strawberry and raspberry ice.

Command Performance (1996 Hollingsworth) has massive fragrant double blooms (9” across) of cardinal red that change color from glowing red, through a range of pinks and finish with a salmon inner glow.

For dark reds try the award-winning Buckeye Belle which has very dark chocolate red petals with a golden stamen or Paul M. Wilde (1964) with its velvety ruby red double 6” blooms.

The peony Purple Spider has both extraordinary form and color. It has purple-fuchsia guard petals with a spidery fuchsia center with stamens often tipped with sparkling white highlights giving it an interesting 3D look.

I will end with the lovely multi-award winning Coral Sunset. This beauty has enchanting feminine ruffled blooms that begins as a vivid coral pink and as it matures it goes through a range of peaches ending with ivory.

Peonies are breathtakingly beautiful and are said to bring good luck and prosperity. They are just about ready to bloom. Come in and see them and maybe you will find that perfect one for your garden. Happy Gardening!

Ellen Presley is the owner of Anderton Nursery