Monday, November 30, 2009

Fern A. Rahnel 1914 - Nov 28, 2009

Fern Alma Rahmel was born in Peterborough in 1914.  

She was admired and respected as a teacher, theatrical director, journalist, historian, horticulturalist and writer.
She was a patron of the arts, contributing generously to many associations that promote art, music, writing and drama. She established and provided funds for a bursary at Trent University. She also donated the funds for the Phoenix Award for English which she established at PCVS many years ago.
In 1999, the Peterborough Examiner's Ed Arnold published a list of 50 people who most influenced the development of Peterborough in the previous 100 years. She was on the list with Dr. H. R. H. Kenner, Sir Sandford Fleming, Katherine Wallis, Pansy Forbes and George A. Cox, to name but a few.
To celebrate Peterborough's Centennial in 2005, Market Hall undertook a project to recognize the accomplishments of Peterborough area artists. She was recognized as a director and writer in the catalogue of names which emerged and became known as Peterborough's Greatest 100 in the Performing Arts.
Born in 1914 to Ohio-born Earnest W. Rahmel and Mossie Loomis, she attended King Edward Public School, Peterborough Collegiate and Vocational School. She attended Peterborough Normal School in 1932-1933 and was editor of the 1932-1933 year book. 
She was one of the few fortunate graduates to get a teaching job, starting her career in a two-room school at Bailieboro and then moving on to King George Public School and Queen Alexandra Public School where she was chosen to be a member of the critic staff for beginning teachers from the Normal School.

During her early days of teaching she entered a contest sponsored by CBC for teachers, accepting the challenge to adapt Hilda Lewis' book The Ship That Flew to radio at the Grade 5 level.
Not only did she win the contest and the $50 prize but she was engaged to do many CBC scripts which were aired regularly on both CBC and CBS. In all she wrote 60 plays that were broadcast in parts of Europe and in North America and many of them received CBC awards. Her final writing for radio was a series on the Queens of England prepared at the time of the coronation of Elizabeth II.
In 1941 she graduated from Queen's University in French and Latin but her professors could see that with her talent for writing she really should pursue the study of English.
In 1948 she joined staff of Peterborough Collegiate and Vocational School where she taught English for five years. During this time Robertson Davies encouraged her to write some book reviews for the weekly magazine Saturday Night of which Davies was the book editor.
In 1953 she left teaching to become the assistant to Gwyn Kinsey, the editor at Saturday Night for three years.
Returning to PCVS in 1956, she began to work with the school drama club. Many aspiring student actors learned the rudiments of theatre and experienced the thrill of being involved in outstanding productions.
In the 1964 Echoes, writing about that year's production of Caesar and Cleopatra, Merike Madisso wrote "More than anything else, the production of a successful play requires unending supplies of patience on the part of the director. Miss Rahmel provided such ample amounts of fortitude and cheerfulness that a sense of steadiness and stability prevailed at every rehearsal and finally at the production. I believe that to be the highest tribute a director can be paid."
Upon her return to Peterborough she also joined the Peterborough Little Theatre and stage-managed many of the original productions of Robertson Davies' plays. She was named a lifetime member of the Eastern Ontario Drama League.
When St. Luke's Anglican Church was destroyed by fire, the newly formed Peterborough Theatre Guild bought the ruins. In this badly damaged church she directed the guild's first play, Christopher Fry's Sleep of Prisoners which takes place in a bomb-damaged church. The setting made the play one of the most memorable of the guild's productions.
She trained both choral and verse-speaking choirs, and in recognition of her work she was made an honorary life member of the Kiwanis Music Festival.
Her interests were not confined to teaching and theatre. She was an avid gardener, with roses and peonies her greatest interests. She was a life member of the Peterborough Horticultural Society and toiled for years to help to create outstanding gardens at a city park.
She was also the regional director of the Canadian Rose Society. Several years ago she was invited for tea at Rideau Hall in Ottawa to be honoured for her work with the Canadian Peony Society.
Among her many contributions to the community, she was a sustaining member of the Friends of the Bata Library from its inception. She also served on the Peterborough Public Library Board and the Regional Library Board. She was a supportive member of Park Street Baptist Church and taught Sunday school for many years.
She cared for her ailing parents and was a most devoted sister of Joan Rahmel who died in 2008.
She was interested in history as well and wrote a paper on Peterborough's first librarian Frederick Montague de la Fosse. It was initially presented to the Friends of the Bata Library and later published by the Peterborough Historical Society as an occasional paper.

She was a lifelong learner. She travelled the world and also spent a season at Oxford University studying under Christopher Ricks, the authority on Tennyson. She was a member of the Shakespeare Club for which she researched and presented many papers. For her many years of involvement in the University Women's Club of Peterborough she was made an honorary life member.

In 1970 she had been a Peterborough teacher for 20 years with the English Department of the Peterborough Collegiate and Vocational School (PCVS). She was Department Head before she retired. She was also assistant to Gwyn Kinsey, editor of "Saturday Night." She was an active participant in theatre and writing. Fern aided Robertson Davies in research while he was editor of the Peterborough Examiner. She wrote children's educational radio plays for CBC.

Perhaps her proudest moment was the 1970 Spring convocation at Trent University at which she was bestowed an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. For those that knew her, the degree was the well-deserved recognition of a diversified career filled with accomplishments. 
She was a sustaining member of the Friends of the Bata Library and had been since its inception. She gave talks to the Peterborough Historical Society and published an occasional paper on F.M. de la Fosse, Peterborough's first librarian.
She directed Robert Bolt's play A Man for All Seasons at PCVS and for the Peterborough Theatre Guild.  One of her favourite moments in the play was the discussion on teaching. Sir Thomas More asked Richard Rich, "Why not be a teacher? You'd be a fine teacher; perhaps a great one." Richard answered, "If I was, who would know it?" Sir Thomas More replied, "You; your pupils; your friends; God. Not a bad public, that".

Countless students would say of Miss Rahmel that she served as a wonderful role model and changed the course of their lives.  She was an extraordinary woman who chose to share her many talents with her students, friends and community. She will be missed.

The death of Fern A. Rahmel marks the passing of a woman of Renaissance proportions.
Miss Rahmel, 95, died Saturday November 28,2009 at Peterborough Regional Health Centre.

NOTES: Visitation is tomorrow at 12:30 p. m. at Comstock Funeral Home, 356 Rubidge St., followed by a funeral at 1:30 p. m.... Memorial donations can be made to the Fern A. Rahmel Bursary at Trent University, a book for a child or the charity of your choice.

A footnote

Fern Rahmel
University Receives $1.2 Million Gift to Assist Women in Need

Generations of Trent University students will benefit from a generous $1.2 million bequest from Fern Rahmel, a leader in education, the arts and culture in the City of Peterborough, Ontario who passed away in late November 2009.
The third largest bequest this history of the Trent University, the gift will focus on Trent University’s campuses in both Peterborough and Oshawa, leaving a remarkable legacy in support of women pursuing higher education.  When matched by the Ontario Trust for Student Support, the total endowment will equal $2.4 million.  Over and above the $1.2 million gift, a separate and specific gift of $5,000 was also directed by Ms. Rahmel to the Bata Library.
At Trent University in Oshawa, $1 million will be endowed in perpetuity, and will generate approximately $40,000 annually. According to the wishes of Ms. Rahmel, the funds will be used for bursaries for female students over the age of twenty-five who have demonstrated financial need as they work toward earning a Trent degree.  An additional $1 million will be endowed, and the income made available to third- and fourth-year students of proven academic ability who have demonstrated financial need, studying at either the Peterborough or Oshawa campuses. An additional endowment of $200,000 will also be created for graduate students who meet similar criteria. It is expected that $100,000 in new funds for bursaries will be available annually as a result of this extraordinary gift.
“This gift is a demonstration of the ability of a single individual to have a lasting impact on the lives of many,” said Dr. Steven E. Franklin, president and vice-chancellor of Trent University. “In addition to years of support to women in need of financial assistance to complete their education at various levels, Ms. Rahmel’s gift helps us to meet the strategic needs of Trent University, with a current focus on building out our 35-year presence in Oshawa with a brand new building opening in September 2010.”
She established the Fern A. Rahmel Bursary at Trent University for mature women students in 2002.

 “Staff here at Trent knew Ms. Rahmel simply as Fern, a kind person, an enthusiastic community member, a passionate promoter of higher education and supporter of Trent,” says Dianne Lister, vice president of External Relations and Advancement. “Fern used to enjoy reading letters from the women at Trent who benefited from the bursary she established here years ago. Her life story is about the power of one person to make a difference”.
Making a Legacy Gift to Trent University has given many friends, alumni, and parents the satisfaction of knowing that future generations will benefit from the gift of knowledge. 
“Fern was a member of the Trent University Legacy Society, which recognizes those who have remembered Trent in their wills or through a planned gift,” said Eileen Madder, chair of the University’s Planned Giving Advisory Committee. “Her gift to Trent is about the power of philanthropy to transform lives – and it was achieved by a school teacher right here in our own community.”

Monday, July 6, 2009

Peonies with wow factor - the eight best varieties

The best peonies to grow for delicious scent, long flowering and fabulous display in the UK

Peonies in a border including Peony  Bowl of Beauty
Peonies in a border at Hanham Court including Peony P. Bowl of Beauty  Photo: JONATHAN BUCKLEY
The time has finally come for me to put in a proper peony bed at my garden at Perch Hill. Every garden and flower arrangement I've seen in the past few weeks has been transformed by Paeonia lactiflora cultivars, which range from pure white to deep pink and into rich crimson, with all shades in between.
There are singles (with one or two layers of petals), semi doubles (with more petals, but you can still clearly see the golden anthers in the flower's centre), Japanese (where the stamens are replaced by narrow petaloid filaments) and the fullest and most spectacular of all – the fully doubles (great puff balls of crumpled petals, row upon row).
So, which of these should one grow? You get the wow factor with almost all, so for my wish list I'd like: delicious scent, a good length of flowering season and strong, healthy, no-hassle growth, which ideally would not need support. As I'm going for eight varieties to plant in my new bed, I want a good balance of flowering times, with some early (in May), some mid season (May into June) and some late (for June into July).
Having talked to plenty of people growing them and chatted to Kelways nurseries and Claire Austin (the two best peony suppliers in Britain), these are the eight I'll be ordering for my October planting.

1 'Duchesse de Nemours' fully double, early flowerer
Truly marvellous, and one of the oldest and most famous double white peonies. It has pure, spotless ivory flowers, lemony green at the base, with the scent of lily of the valley. It's easy to grow and a plentiful flower producer which makes it an excellent cut flower. It's also slightly shorter than others, growing to approx 85cm, making it a great choice for a windy garden.
2 'Charlie's White' fully double, early flowering
Deliciously scented, large rounded white flower with a cream glow on very long, straight stems which rarely need staking. 'Charlie's White' is America's number one cutting variety. It makes a vigorous and healthy plant, which is quite light cropping, but easy to grow.
3 'Krinkled White' single, early to mid season flowering
A very beautiful, simple white peony, considered by some to be even better than the similar, shade-tolerant and iconic 'White Wings'. It's one of the shorter peonies (80cm) so won't need staking, its petals have a lovely crinkle and it flowers for slightly longer than 'White Wings' so I'm trying it.
Very pale pinks
4 'Sarah Bernhardt' – fully double, late flowering
Sweetly scented, with pale pink flowers, this is favoured by commercial cut-flower producers and is one of the best known. It's very productive and reliable and has good disease resistance. Only down side is that it's tall (1m), so will need staking.
Mid pinks
5 'Bowl Of Beauty' Japanese type, mid to late flowering
One of the most famous of herbaceous peonies and deservedly so as it flowers for almost twice as long as others, with many budded stems and flowers opening one after another for more than a month. It also has delicious scent. A height of 90cm so may need staking.
6 'Monsieur Jules Elie' fully double, late flowering
The centre of each flower mounds up and the petals elegantly pale to silver at their edge. The blooms are borne on long, arching stems (but at 80cm should not need staking) and are deliciously rose scented. Claire Austin particularly loves this one and it's late, so excellent for extending your peony season.
Deep pinks into reds
7 'Karl Rosenfeld' semi-double, mid to late season flowering
This flowers like blazes, with tall, dark-coloured strong stems which should be self supporting. The down side of reds is that they do not make such good cut flowers. Their vase life is shorter than the pinks and whites, particularly the fully doubles, and if picked in bud they won't fully develop. However, 'Inspecteur Lavergne' is reckoned to be an improved variety.
8 'Buckeye Belle' semi-double, very early flowering
This is the deep blood-red peony that filled the one section of planting in Luciano Giubbilei's show garden for Laurent-Perrier at this year's Chelsea Flower Show. It is an excellent garden variety which grows to nearly a metre, but should not need staking.
Where to buy
  • Claire Austin Hardy Plants, Edgebolton, Shawbury, Shropshire SY4 4EL (01939 251173)
  • Kelways Plants Ltd, Picts Hill, Langport, Somerset TA10 9EZ (mail order 01458 250521)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Hybridizing Peonies

The First Step
New cultivars of garden peonies are grown from seeds. At the turn of the twentieth century the procedure was to collect all the seeds you could find in your field, perhaps with preference given to seeds produced on favoured cultivars, and plant them directly into the ground. Some of these growers would plant a bushel of seeds each year, and that’s a lot of seedlings. This method of developing new cultivars worked sufficiently well then because in North America there were relatively few peonies considered exceptional. There was lots of room for improvement and planting a bushel of seeds offered a reasonable chance of coming up with something worthwhile and different. Integral to this method was the need for considerable arable land to grow thousands of seedlings. Times have changed.
Today, and over the last fifty years or more, the majority of the work at improving the peony has been done by relatively small nurseries and by interested backyard gardeners. In reality, the most significant improvements in the peony have always been made by enthusiasts working in their spare time primarily out of interest. Regardless , today if you are to accomplish anything worthwhile, you will have to give a bit more thought  to end goals and how they might be achieved. In a backyard garden you do not have the room to plant thousands of seedlings and raise them to blooming size. Fewer seeds of higher potential should be the basic tenet of the back yard peony breeder, and that takes a little planning.
An important part of planning will be selection of parents. This is not to say that you don’t already have peonies in your garden that would be useful in a breeding program, but only that a plan or two (or four) will help focus your efforts. Having knowledge of what has been done with certain peonies in raising new cultivars, or the pedigrees of the peonies you have in your garden, would be a great help in formulating a plan built around peonies you might already have, or as a tool in selecting new cultivars to be introduced into your garden.
Parentage information is available, but you have to hunt for it in resources that are not often readily obtainable, or are organized in a manner to make searching an exercise in tedium and frustration. Peony registration documentation, as published since 1923 by the American Peony Society in their quarterly Bulletin, yields the bulk of the information to be found. The work of Professor A. P. Saunders is fairly well covered in The Peonies, (1962), edited by John C. Wister, in the chapter written by Silvia Saunders. Nursery catalogues often give parentage information in the descriptions, and then there are scattered references in articles published in the APS Bulletin over the years. It is not all easy to find, and some sources contradict each other, so a reasonable amount of judgement must sometimes be exercised when evaluating the information given.
A recent search for peony pedigrees has turned up over 800 records and this information is published below. Each record is referenced to a source document. Research too needs a pedigree. There are columns for the pod parent, and for the pollen parent. The convention for many years has been to list the pod (seed, female) parent first in the generally used written format “pod parent x pollen parent.” The assumption has been made that this was always the case, but there are many instances where different sources have them reversed  for the same cultivar. The published “registration” information was taken as correct in these cases, unless other reliable sources supported changing them. The surest way to impart this information would have been to state which is pod and which is pollen parent, but few did it this way.
In some cases species peonies were listed as one of the parents. In the case of the officinalis peonies there were in cultivation several named selections, and these are specified in some listings. However, where officinalis on its own is given, one can’t assume that it was a wild species rather than one of the cultivated selections. As an example, Saunders very early on raised a chance seedling of some officinalis cultivar, pedigree unknown, which he used in some of his hybridizing work. Where known, this is specified, but in most cases the available information just doesn’t support saying anything more than “officinalis.”
In all cases where “Lactiflora” was given as a parent, it was one of the cultivated varieties. Where the lactiflora parent was specified, the cultivar name is used, otherwise it is listed as “Lactiflora cvr.” to signify a cultivar rather than the species.  In no instance was there any indication that a species lactiflora was used, and to do so would have been to lose the benefit of hundreds of years of breeding effort that the Lactiflora Group make available to us.
Where the term “unknown” is used, it almost always means that pollination was left to natural vectors. In those cases where the pod parent has its own viable pollen, this is likely to have been self pollination. Where the term “self” is used, this means that the hybridizer manually pollinated the flower with pollen of the same cultivar, or at least this was suggested from the information provided. Whether the pollen came from the same flower, a different flower on the same plant, or from a different plant of the same cultivar, all result in the bloom being considered self pollinated.
The list is incomplete. There are other available sources which have not yet been tabulated and periodic updates, including corrections, will be made to the list. Nevertheless, the more than 800 peonies already listed will give the potential hybridizer plenty of food for thought.

PDF version 
 .csv file for use with local spreadsheet or database

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Mary Pratte

by Janet Uren  
Ottawa peony.pdf 2009 
photography:Marc Fowler/metropolis studio Lalonde(left);Mary Pratte(below)

Twenty years ago an aspiring student 
gardener named Mary Pratte 
helped her horticulture professor 
lay out and maintain a magnificent
sweep of garden for a house in Rockcliffe Park.
Twelve years ago she and her husband 
bought that house and Pratte dedicated 
herself to building the perennial garden. 
Today her bravura display of peonies
stops flower lovers dead in their tracks

Paean to the Peony
Resident expert:
Mary Pratte,a former
president of the
Canadian Peony
Society, has dedicated
much of her career
as a gardener to
learning all there is to
know about peonies.
As a teacher and
lecturer, she now
shares that knowledge
and passion

It's a fine summer morning in the garden.  Sunlight pours down a long green sweep of lawn, and a broad perennial border - fully 100 feet 
long - proclaims the exuberant height of June.  Clumps of irises - dusky purples, lavenders, corals, and soft butter yellows - weave 
extravagant taffeta frills into a bright background of poppies, roses, and, densely patterned foliage.
Before long, a jostling, gaudy crowd of lilies, 
delphiniums and bee balm will shoulder the irises aside, followed in time by the autumn perennials - asters, chrysanthemums, and fall aconites.  
For that's the glory of a perennial border in all seasons.  "They love the garden.  They challenge us," says gardener Mary Pratte.  "They say, 'Why 
did you change that?' 'What's that?' ' Where did the hydrangeas go?' "She rewards them for their interest by leaving pots of divided plants 
at the end of the drive.  "People take them, and they come back later to tell us how they're doing."  For a few brief weeks in June, though, 
it's Pratte's bravura display of peonies - big and small, white and red, pink and yellow - that stops flower lovers dead in their tracks. Few 
gardens in Ottawa offer such a rich display of 2,000 years ago, the peony got its name from the ancient Greeks.   A myth says that Zeus 
took pity on a young medical student, Paeon, who had made his divine teacher, Asclepius, jealous.  The god protected the boy by turning 
him into a flower.  The peony turns up in Canadian history too, when settlers took it West in covered wagons. Clearly, this is a flower that 
inspires affection and loyalty. Plants are passed through families from generation to generation, and when people move, peonies are often
uprooted and taken along. Admirers willingly put up with the flower’s faults — a sometimes heavy head, for example, that droops without
support, and petals that fall everywhere — and breathlessly extol the virtues of colour, texture, shape, and scent.  Pratte, a former president of
the Canadian Peony Society, is one of those devotees. She has dedicated much of her career as a gardener to learning all there is to know
about peonies, and today, as a teacher and lecturer, she shares her passion. She also consults — for example, with Les Jardins de Métis/Reford
 Gardens in the Gaspé — to help identify unknown peonies. Detective-like, she searches out rare and lost varieties. And as a member of the
Friends of the Farm, she helped — on behalf of Agriculture and Agrifood Canada — re-establish and build on an extraordinary collection
of peonies at Ottawa’s Central Experimental Farm. “I worked with George Vorauer to establish a new collection of peonies,” she explains.
“We wanted to bring back peonies that had died or been lost from previous collections, as well as
introduce a number of fine Canadian-bred peonies. Finally, we wanted to build a new Saunders collection.” (A.P. Saunders was a
son of the farm’s first director and an important hybridizer of peonies. The farm now has examples
of more than 100 varieties that he
developed.) Today the world boasts more than 5,000 varieties of named peonies, with more being added every year. Though there
are 35 species of wild peonies, most hybridizer's work with only one — the single white Paeonia lactiflora. “Saunders was unusual,”
says Pratte, “in using anywhere from 30 to 35 wild varieties. The result was a collection that includes many different forms and subtle
colours — cherry, coral, pale pink... Saunders was also important in that he kept meticulous notes on 17,000 different plants.”

Border crossing:

Though the peonies are the central 
attraction in Mary Pratte’s garden during 
their six-week bloom period, her perennial 
borders are designed to flower all year. 
In this late-spring photo, for instance, tulips 
and irises are among the flowers providing
vibrant hits of colour to complement the
early peonies

Mary Pratte’s life as a gardener began as a five-year-old, when her father was posted to England.
“The garden we inherited with our house came with a gardener,” she remembers. “I 
followed him around for years, asking questions, and that’s where I had my first lessons in 
The lessons resumed many years later in Canada. Having recently retired from teaching to 
devote herself to family, Pratte was restless. Though she had as yet little practical 
experience as a gardener — just a few house plants, pots on a balcony and, later, a small 
yard in Toronto — botany had always intrigued her. After moving to Ottawa in 1988, she dared
to try something new. She enrolled in horticulture at Algonquin College.  One of her teachers 
was David Goodfellow. “He had enormous influence on me, and when the time came for
a placement, I asked if I could join him in his work,” she remembers. Goodfellow had 
recently laid out a magnificent sweep of garden for a house in Rockcliffe Park, and his 
aspiring student gardener helped him maintain it. Today, by astounding coincidence, Pratte 
now owns that house and garden. It must have been fate. The Prattes had been living in Manor
Park for some years, and it was there that Mary had begun resurrecting and redesigning 
her first real garden. “But I wanted something more,” she says. “I had always yearned for 
a real perennial border, something with sweep and flow.” In 1996, the couple decided to
move and started to search. “We looked and looked and found nothing, and eventually we gave 
up. That’s when our agent called and said: ‘Come and see one more house. I think you’ll
like it.’ And that was it. I knew the house. It was where I had worked with David 
Goodfellow. We always say that we didn’t buy a house, we bought a garden.” It was the 
beginning of an adventure that has since engaged Mary Pratte in countless hours of 
joyous labour. “Some days I go out, and there are so many things to do, I hardly know where to
begin,” she says. “I start working, and I can’t stop. Suddenly the streetlights are coming on, and
it’s night. Still I can’t stop. I like gardening at night, when everything is quiet and I have
to feel my way around. Gardening for me is about using all the senses.”
Some of the fascination comes from sensual delight. The rest comes from making 
friends with the floral inhabitants of her garden. “You have to learn every plant,” Pratte 
explains, “know its being. Take it out of the pot. Don’t be afraid of it. Examine its roots.
Understand the plant. That’s what David taught me. ‘Look at it,’ he used to say. ‘Understand 
what it does, how it works. Then you’ll know what to do with it.’"

“Some days I go out, and there are so many things to do,
I hardly know where to begin. I start working, and I can’t
stop. Suddenly the streetlights are coming on, and it’s night.
Still I can’t stop. I like gardening at night, when
everything is quiet and I have to feel my way around.
Gardening for me is about using all the senses”
In striving to know and understand her garden, Pratte is not afraid to play favourites. And among all the horticultural splendours that surround her, she has chosen to give her heart to the peony. That flower, in myriad varieties, contributes a remarkable range of colour and form to her garden in June — everything from delicate singles in creamy whites and yellows all the way to great many-petalled globes of colour that range from burgundy to snowy white. These are the “voluptuous doubles,” the gardener explains, whose weighty blossoms — the despair of every gardener after a rainstorm — were once specially bred as cut flowers.
Pratte knows every one of her peonies by name and pedigree. Here is the Paeonia mlokosewitschii
, she says — otherwise known as ‘Molly the Witch.’ “This is the only true yellow herbaceous
peony. It’s a very early bloomer and has a distinctive leaf shape, with bluey-red leaves. It also has decorative seed pods that open in fall to show red and blue-black seeds.” Next door to Molly is another early bloomer, ‘Le Printemps,’ whose peachy-pink blossoms were introduced to the world in 1905 by a famous French hybridizer. In this garden, they rub shoulders with the dark red ‘Henry Bockstoce,’ which has the unusual virtue of standing bolt upright even in the rain. ‘Nice Gal,’ similarly, “is not a flopper.” ‘White Innocence’ is the tallest peony of all — a towering plant covered with single blossoms that are a pure, virginal white and deceptively delicate in appearance. In the centre of the flower, seed pods cluster tightly like a decorative green button. And so it goes. There are more than 100 varieties of peonies in Pratte’s garden, and she is anxious to introduce them all as the
individuals they are. The Itoh peonies, for instance, were bred by a Japanese horticulturalist. They’re a cross between the tree peony, which holds its buds on a woody stem, and a herbaceous variety, which buds underground and is thus less vulnerable to frost. The Itoh peonies combine the best traits of both. On the one hand, they have the delicate, exotic leaves of the tree peony and huge blooms that look as though they’re made of crumpled tissue paper; on the other hand, they have the hardiness of herbaceous varieties. Other peonies (Paeonia tenuifolia) have leaves like asparagus plants. One has a spiky halo at the blossom’s heart,where stamens have developed into petaloids: this peony has a
charming name: ‘Do Tell.’  One of the poignant pleasures of the peony flower is the brevity of its life. Some varieties bloom early and others late, so the season as a whole lasts perhaps six weeks. Individual plants, however, flower for little more than a week. Thus, whenever a peony explodes into blossom, it demands to be seen and admired, quickly and intensely, before the flowers bow and fade and the petals fall.  By July, it is all over. Until next year. That’s the thing about peonies. Year after year, they return — like old friends — to our perennial delight.

                peonies on parade:

1 Pratte says she can never do justice with her camera to the blooms of  ‘Henry
Bockstoce’. The dark red peony has the unusual virtue of standing bolt upright even in the rain
2‘White Innocence’ is the tallest peony of all — a towering plant covered with single blossoms that are a pure, virginal white and deceptively delicate in appearance
3  Though the entire peony season lasts just six weeks, when
        conditions are right, the blooms are spectacular
4  The ‘Do tell’ peony boasts a distinctive spiky halo at the blossom’s
           heart, where stamens have developed into petaloids

5  ‘Nice gal’ is a classically pretty peony with petals that fade as the
   flower matures, creating the bicoloured effect seen in this photo

6 Pratte has more than 100 varieties of peonies in her garden, including
       this ‘age of gold’ tree peony with its creamy lemon blooms

 Photography: Mary Pratte(1, 5, 6); Marc Fowler/Metropolis Studio(2, 3, 4)