By Vivian Shoalts for the Welland Tribune
Peonies are usually one of the stars of the June garden.
With the strange weather patterns we have been having this year our gardens are about a month ahead of normal which means our peonies’ peak bloom period is past. This is not the only problem our plants have suffered. With the heavy drought for the whole month of May their blooms were not as large as we usually expect them to be, that is a real pity. Still they will carry on, a stalwart presence in the garden.
Stalwart and very long lived they are. One can often see on trips around the country where a farm house has once stood the site is still marked with an old peony, no doubt planted just after the house was built.
In my garden I have peonies that were originally from the farm where my husband grew up. His great-grandmother tended those original plants right down to his mother who gave me pieces of them for my garden where they continue to grace the late spring/early summer garden. Now pieces of them have been passed on to our children’s gardens to continue the tradition of producing their lovely scented blooms of pink or white or red.
Even these work horses of the garden do best with some tender, loving care as the season begins when compost and manure mix can be spread around each sprouting plant first thing. To combat the botrytis blight that can plague peonies, when they are about 15 cm (six inches) high dust them with some sulphur as a preventative. Once they are starting to set buds and bloom keep an eye out for any buds that remain small and turn brown. Nip them out and discard in the green bin. These have been afflicted with botrytis blight, getting rid of diseased plant material helps to combat this fungus.
The only other problem they occasionally have is not blooming after being planted or transplanted. This is caused by too deep planting. Peonies are sensitive to planting depth. They should have the crown of the plant no deeper than 2 cm (one inch) deep. I find it easiest to keep those red buds on the fleshy roots level to ground level. This takes care of any problem caused by minor settling at planting time, though this can be stopped by not digging any deeper than the length of the root system.
Plant breeders around the world have been busy breeding new plants for cultivation with new colours, flower forms and extended seasonal flowering. There are literally hundreds of different peony varieties to be had to grace the garden.
One of the oldest varieties is the lovely white Duchesse de Nemours bred in the 1850s and still going strong. Another is Bowl of Beauty with deep pink outer petals centred with light yellow stamenoids, bred in 1949. This one stands up well to a heavy rain. A fairly new one Coral Charm has long stems great for cutting but it needs staking to stay upright after a rain. The blooms of Gay Paree are smaller but its combination of deep pink and light pink make it an attractive addition. There are plenty of these lovely plants to choose from but I’d like to give you one last tip regarding staking.
The best and most unobtrusive is a sturdy wire one around it (mine was made of concrete reinforcing wire by my son) about three quarters of the height of the plant. Tie some strong twine in a crisscross pattern over the top. The peony grows through this and once it’s up to full height one never knows its support is there and heavy rains don’t spoil the show.