Monday, June 11, 2012

Rain-proof peonies

'Coral n Gold' peony.(Photo courtesy of Blossom Hill Nursery)
This was the week rain smashed the pale pink ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ peonies, which happens every year in early June. You just know there will be a downpour that will splatter the big double blooms across the lawn. (Peony rings and staking are no guarantee that a hard rain won’t shatter the flowers.) But not every peony was destroyed.

I have three clumps of white single, lemon-scented ‘Jan van Leeuwen’ peony (Paeonia lactiflora ‘Jan van Leeuwen’) standing straight up and unphased by the storm. It would be good insurance to put more of these slightly shorter, single peonies into the garden in other colours, too.

Lush double peonies are seductive and hard to resist, but single peonies have their own allure. Singles have a generous ring of coloured guard petals surrounding a thick centre of golden stamens. There may be one ring, or as many as three overlapping rings of guard petals, increasing the fullness of the flowers, but not enough to allow rainwater to fill the blooms and take them down. Singles also tend to be shorter than the possibly 36- to 40-inch (90 cm- to 1-m) height of doubles, making them less vulnerable to wind. The dramatic contrast between smooth guard petals and the thick centre of yellow stamens adds interest and vivacity to the blossoms. So I had a look at various catalogues, searched for plant pictures on the Internet, and came up with some nice selections I can plant for rain and wind resistance.

My double peonies are dark and light pink, so I’d be glad to have more colour diversity. I found ‘Burma Joy’ with rich red petals and dark mahogany red ‘Rubyette’, both with bright yellow centres. I can’t resist ‘Coral and Gold’ with its suffusion of pink and orange. ‘Foxtrot’ has to go on the order list (of plants to be delivered in September), with its deep magenta guard petals along with ‘Cerise’, a unique peony with blue-pink petals and a white centre.

I’d also like to find some single species peonies that bloom early and lengthen the season. Molly the Witch (Paeonia mlokosewitschii) is a beautiful yellow, although sometimes the colour is variable and flowers might open pink. Another beauty is Paeonia veitchii, with three-inch (8-cm) magenta flowers, that can also be pale pink and sometimes white. These species peonies are quite beautiful early in spring. But they’re hard to find, and I’ll have to haunt plant sales for a while until they turn up. If you ever see them, grab them!

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