Smitten with peonies
Southern plants that do not need to be kept in warmth during the winter.
You probably know it. Having a lot of plants from the south in your greenhouse and then winter comes. They need heat, so you need to find a plant hotel to keep your plants in warmth. That’s not the case with peonies. They tolerate cold winters.
The Danish science journalist, photographer and editor, Allan Høxbroe, fell in love with tree peonies many years ago, and couldn’t now imagine his garden without them. Peonies are much easier to care for than people think, says Allan Høxbroe. He emphasises another quality of peonies which is that tree peonies fit everywhere, both in gardens with pots, terraced house gardens and large gardens.
Tree peonies are among the oldest cultivated ornamental plants. Their history is at least 2000 years old. They originally stem from China where the flower was, and still is, considered the flower of fortune. The flower is an image on many Chinese flower paintings. In Europe, the tree’s roots were used in medicine, but it only appeared in Europe in 1800, where the Frenchmen plunged into the improvement of the plant.
There are 8 different kinds of tree peonies. According to Allan Høxbroe the best peonies for the English gardens are the Rockii hybrids. They tolerate extreme minus degrees, they are exceptionally beautiful with flowers as big as a saucer, and they can get up to 4 feet high. Plant them with bare roots in well-drained soil. The flower can be white, rose, red or violet with black spots on the inner part of the petals.
In the past few years, another type of tree peonies has shown and made people excited. That is the Lutea hybrid, especially the one with yellow flowers is beautiful. The nuances are very nice, and the flowers are as big as teacups. Remember to plant in well-drained soil, preferably with gravel or sand, or better: a flower bed which slopes so the water can run out. Buy the peonies at your local nursery.
There are a couple of wild sorts of peonies that fit perfectly in the garden: Paeonia ludlowii is the biggest of them all, 8 feet high. It should be placed close to a house with a warm basement to tolerate the winter. It is plentiful in yellow flowers, and the flowers “only” have the size of a teacup.
Another wild and frost tolerating peony is the Paeonia delavayi, which gets 4 feet high. It is found in dark red, red-orange or two-coloured, or by any luck yellow.
Finally, there is a big group of traditional peonies, which suit the English weather with rainy winters. They are the so-called suffruticosa-sorts. Only a few of them get old. They are lovely to grow in basins and large pots which can adorn the garden during the summer, and then be put inside to overwinter.
You can grow all kinds of peonies in whiskey barrels that have been sawn through or large basins and let them stay outside all year round. Generally, in England, it is rarely frost that kills peonies. Some sorts are in a greater risk of losing the bud because it is either freezing off or burning off. When the bud burns off it is usually because the plant gets too much morning sun at a time where the soil and roots are still frozen, hence the roots cannot bring water to the bud which then dies.
Om Lars Lund
Danish horticulturist and journalist
Lars Lund has for many years engaged in the garden and greenhouse. Lars has published many books about greenhouses, and he has participated in many Danish horticultural TV shows. He is a walking garden encyclopaedia, and he has answers for most basic cultivation questions – also the more ambitious ones.
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