Thursday, June 9, 2011

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One of my earliest memories is of smelling a peony for the first time. Of course, as a child, all I knew is that it was the biggest, whitest, most frilly flower I had ever seen. It had little red dots in the middle and a fragrance that was sweeter than anything I had smelled before.

Festiva Maxima peony
Festiva Maxima peony

The peony was one of several we had in a row against the back of our house. My mother also had a shrub rose, irises and a lilac but she generally didn’t bring those into the house – mostly peonies. I guess to her they brought back memories of a day in June 1946 when they filled a little country church for her wedding to a World War II Army Air Force veteran.

Although my mother has added a few gray hairs since then, she still loves her peonies. If I don't get her plants cleaned up early each spring, she's been known to get out there and do it herself, despite her advancing years and my admonishments to the contrary.

Peonies, without a doubt, are a great plant. They love clay soil, asking only for an occasional top dressing of composted mature. Many are fragrant. If the blooms aren't already big enough, you can pinch off some of the smaller buds so the remaining flowers become incredibly huge. They make great cut flowers.

Kansas peony flower
Kansas peony
And peonies are long-lived.  I’ve gone back to look at my previous gardens and much of what I had planted is now dead and gone. The peonies remain.

My decision to plant peonies in all of my gardens, though, hasn't been made with my head. It was made with my heart.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m as enthusiastic as anyone about new plant cultivars. I've grown some of the new coral-colored peonies (prompting a lot of oohs and ahs from my neighbors).  I'm also dying to find a place in my garden for one of the new Itoh intersectional peonies.

Still, my garden will always have some of the time-tested peony varieties like Festiva Maxima, Kansas and Sarah Bernhardt. They're sentimental favorites. Every garden should have flowers that hold a special meaning for its owner. After all, that's what makes a garden uniquely yours.


  1. Karen, you're right, this is very much of the heart. For me it was the peonies in my grandmother's garden. I inherited quite a few and they are still going strong. I love Red Charm, Raspberry Sundae, Bowl of Beauty, and my only Itoh, Bartzella (Love the neighbor envy! Everybody asks "What's the yellow one?") What was the coral one you mentioned? And does anyone have suggestions for a tree peony?

  2. It was Pink Hawaiian Coral. Your choice of Bartzella is a good one. It's on my short list.