Taken from The Peony C to C, May 2005, Vol 8 Issue 2
by Eva Mitravitz
It is the first week of February here in my part of the country. The temperatures are 50F+, the robins have returned and the grass that turned brown last fall has begun to show green.
A walk through my peony fields shows several of the early varieties have become adventurous and are pushing their red shoots throught the ground. It is a bit early, but the soil is too wet and muddy to allow me to cover them, so will take a chance on a hard frost later.
I live in the Similkameen Valley, which roughly parallels the U.S. border along Highway 3, which we call the crows Nest Highway. About 12 miles from here we climb a Pass and enter the Okanagan Valley at Osoyoos.
The tip of the Sonoran Desert, which begins in Mexico and extends northwards to Osoyoos, ends here outside of our area. Some of the inhabitants - rattlesnakes, rear-fanged boa, scorpions, 26 varieties of spiders, and many more fauna reside here. We have beautiful birds, California quail, a very mild climate, (except for a couple of weeks in December and January) that all contributes to making this one of the most desirable places in Canada to live. But, like all Edens, it has its drawbacks. Here it is the soil and extremely hot weather in July and August.
The soil is thin and composed of volcanic ash and some clay. If sand were to be added to this composition, then we would have cement.
We farm cherries, peaches, some pears and apples, and also, 50 filbert nut trees. A large garden is planted for our own use. Each spring we amend the soil by adding well rotted cow and / or turkey manure; bone meal; composted garden refuse and leaves; wood chips from our tree pruning are used as mulch on the flowerbeds.
To obtain the required moisture for the peony roots, we have installed a system of soaker hoses along each of the rows or around the beds and the water is turned on when needed during the night. Because of the lack of snowfall and rain in our area, fall planting is extremely difficult. Our land is irrigated by community water and this is turned on April 15th and shut off October 15th. So, I have been buying from suppliers who will ship in the spring. So far it has been a success.
I have always grown a few peonies in my gardens wherever we have lived over the past 50 years, but never had the time to really investigate the many varieties. After purchasing this retirement property, I began adding as many plants as I could afford each year and now have nearly 100 varieties. My collection also boasts several very old varieties given to me from friends' parents' gardens and now with retirement, I will be able to spend more time looking for their names.
Two years ago I began contributing data to Michael Denny's Bloom Dates project. We discovered that several of my varieties have such widely differing bloom times from the rest of the country that it will be worthwhile to log this data in minute detail to discover the reasons for the differences.
This is an exciting time for me. Not many people get the chance to do what they want this late in life. The more I read, the more books I find and add to my collection, the more beautiful blooms I get to see in my garden, the more eager I become to try new peony plants. For the first time I have planted seeds after watching John Simkin's video and what a joy to see the roots a few days ago! I had tried earlier without success and thought it was my inexperience that had caused the failures.
Happy peony gardening to you all!!
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