Peony’s Progress

This is the fourth spring since I planted peonies in our garden. I didn’t really want to plant peonies, they didn’t fit in with my native/wildlife-friendly gardening ethos. Plus, let’s face it, they are the ultimate horticultural flash in the pan: blooming one day, gone the next.

Peony 'America'
Peony ‘America’

But Judy yearned for peonies, and I gave in. The four I planted were an early red single Paeonia anomala (can’t remember the variety name), the early pink ‘Abalone Pearl’, the late red single ‘America’, and a late pink peony whose name has been lost in the mists of time. All were from Klehm’s, right here in the great state of Illinois.

I put them in the back, where the high dappled shade falls short of the full sun that is ideal. The soil was hard and full of roots, but I’ve been laying on plenty of compost.

Peony 'America' with the flowers just starting to get blowsy.
Peony ‘America’ with the flowers just starting to get blowsy.

And over time, the peonies have been growing on me. In fact, I have gotten into the habit of counting the number of flowers they produce each season, sort of like baseball fans tracking the number of home runs hit by their favorite sluggers.

Late pink peony in the back garden, no ID.
Late pink peony in the back garden, no ID.  At first I thought it was ‘Abalone Pearl’, but it is a late bloomer.

By and large, my peonies are slowly getting bushier and more floriferous, though I suspect they would be much more so if they were in a more favorable location. For example, last year ‘America’ had five flowers, this year it was seven. During this same time P. anomala went from five to eight, and ‘Abalone Pearl’ went from four to six. The unknown late pink peony is the stingiest with the flowers: last year it had just one , this year three – though the foliage certainly looks robust.

Peony anomala. Looks a lot like 'America' except for the foliage and the fact that it's an early bloomer.
Peony anomala. Looks a lot like ‘America’ except for the foliage and the fact that it’s an early bloomer.

This year I remembered to cut off the flower heads after the petals had dropped – I’m hoping this will help the peonies bulk up. I was also very proud of myself for heading off any flopping. I did have two of those grid-style peony hoops, but for the other two I just used four short stakes and twine. It was easy to place the stakes in the foliage so that they did not show. I ran the twine around the perimeter of the stakes, but then also tied it so as to make an X inside the perimeter. This prevented all the peony stems from leaning in one direction, like a cluster of drunks holding themselves up against the same fence.

'Abalone Pearl'
‘Abalone Pearl’

Today I was at the Chicago Botanical Garden for a tree identification walk. (And for the record, once Magnolias have bloomed there is no reasonable way to tell the different varieties apart. Don’t try to be helpful, OK, there just isn’t.) What I wanted to mention, though, is that at one point we came across a part of the garden where tall purple alliums were combined with single white peonies, both blooming at the same time, in a way that was just magical. Very sad that I didn’t have any kind of camera with me.

You may remember that I need to divide my Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ bulbs and interplant them with companions that can assert themselves amongst all that oniony foliage. So I said to Judy that maybe we should get some single white peonies to plant with ‘Purple Sensation’.

'Abalone Pearl' - the whole plant.
‘Abalone Pearl’ – the whole plant.

(Though I would want some other plants as well – I’m thinking great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphylitica) and some gray’s sedge (Carex grayi). If it’s just alliums and peonies, it’s going to be a spring-only show.)

So I mentioned this idea to Judy, thinking she would be pleased, and you know what she said? She shrugged and said, “OK, if that’s what you want.”

Anyhow, any thoughts on how I can help my peonies along, and whether the peony/’Purple Sensation’ combo is a good idea?

56 Comments on “Peony’s Progress”

  1. I am a native plant enthusiast…almost to the point of fanatic, but I still love peonies. They are such a romantic flower!

    As far as your question goes… Was your wife with you when you saw the white peony/purple Allium combo? If not, then go for it. She’ll probably be as enchanted as you were. If she was with you, then I’d go by how strong YOUR desire for the combination is – and whether you have room for it anywhere that makes sense!

  2. Those are beautiful photos. I think the allium/white peony combo sounds lovely. I have a volunteer peony in my yard that I have ignored and each year it gets a little larger although it does not get the sun it needs. This year, I moved it a sunny spot and will watch it. It is nothing more than a twig–so to speak–but like your flowering shrubs, gets larger each year.

  3. The advantage of giving them a little shade is that they may flower longer. Mine are all in the full sun and flower profusely for three weeks or more. I pretty much ignore them and they haven’t complained yet! I like the foliage on P. anomala.

  4. Such lovely peonies. I have 12-13 different ones. But when they have finished flowering they look a bit sad. I think it could look amazing with alliums and white peonies, but I would rather put my alliums with cranesbill or maybe aquilegia.
    As to the size they will benefit from more sun I think.

  5. I see you like single flowers – me too and the foliage of anomala is absolutely spectacular and decorative long when the flowers are gone. I think grasses would make nice companions, alliums, geraniums and other perennials as well.

  6. I have a peony that was given to me by my grandmother who got it from her mother. I like native plants as well, but you can’t beat a peony with that much history. Yours are beautiful, by the way, and I think they will get better with time. The ones I planted 15 years ago looked the best this year. Sometimes I cut off the flower stems and sometimes I don’t. Mine do best in full sun and always bloom around Mother’s day. I would be more than happy to share if you want some.

  7. I’m thinking they would benefit from more sun in Chicago if they are going to really bulk up and bloom like mad. Funny – you are now coming to like peonies, whereas I have vowed not to plant any at my new house. My Festiva Maxima peony gave me its best ever show this May, right before I moved. But then it got hot and it was curtains for the flowers. Happens all the time in North Carolina. No more, say I.

  8. You have to have peonies. Every garden needs lots of peonies. Your Peony anomala looks just like my Peony tenuifolia.
    I’ ve never seen the P. Abalone Pearl before, it’ s stunning.
    I grow my peonies with roses and delphiniums, alliums and campanulas. Pinks at the front.

  9. Wow, the foliage is very cool on the Peony anomala. I like the idea of single white peonies with ‘Purple Sensation’. I added peonies in the last few years so mine are just starting to get more blooms. This year after the cold winter they produced the most ever, but not all of them opened.

  10. Peonies are all about the planting-a good big hole and all the rotted cow manure and compost you can fill it with. Top dressing after they bloom with compost will help, too. Doing these things will keep them blooming for many decades. I see them and lilacs still blooming in the woods beside cellar holes from the 1800s.
    If the peony and allium planting looked good at the botanical garden there’s no reason you can’t re-create it on a smaller scale, but you’ll have a lot of foliage to deal with after they bloom.

  11. Leto is a nice white peony. You might also try tree peony – a plant thought so beautiful in ancient China that only mandarins were allow to grow it .It also bloom for a short time but I think you could argue that it produces the nicest of all flowers.

  12. Beautiful peonies! I have 3 that were some of the very first plants I bought for the garden. I’ve moved them a couple of times, and they’ve always bloomed beautifully. I used to stake them, but then I thought they looked unnatural and started letting them go. This year I started using a little flowing fence I was using for something else. I think I like it. Enjoy the flowers!

  13. Nice collection! My Peonies start out in the sun, and end up in shade. By the time they bloom (any day now), all the Oaks have leafed out so the Peonies have to reach for any sunlight they can find. The blooms do last a good, long while though, as Cathy mentions, unless we get a wicked thunderstorm (which has been known to happen in mid- to late June). Anyway, your Peonies are beautiful and I don’t blame Judy or you one bit. And they’re wonderful cut flowers!

  14. If you are not happy with their performance it might be because as you say, “The soil was hard and full of roots, but I’ve been laying on plenty of compost.” For me when there is a problem it is almost always a soil issue. (heavy clay over here) Since they didn’t die, have slowly gotten bigger and have enough sun to produce flowers my guess is that they will probably eventually be just fine. They are long lived and pretty tough. btw: I think your peonies are lovely. My fave is the unknown pink.

  15. Hi Jason, I have a two-year old peony that I bought from the supermarket and is about 15cm tall, I think it will be a long time before it flowers. In the mean time, I shall have to look at yours. They don’t tend to flower for a long time though, which is a shame as the flowers are very beautiful.

  16. Nice! I can see why you make room for them in your packed garden. Does anomala keep it’s foliage all year? I really like the ferny effect.
    Would you consider a late lily such as black beauty? It would give some later season color to the bed.

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