By Pam Erikson/Special to Langley Advance Times
Peonies are surprising us this year!
While the past winter was a cold one, the spring this year has been another one for the books.
We didn’t get the amount of moisture that we suffered with last spring, but we did have to endure the longest, coldest stretch we gardeners have seen.
This once again resulted in wicked losses in the garden – hydrangeas took a big hit everywhere; many perennials, which had started growing earlier in the year, died down again with the sudden blasts of cold; and cedar hedging can be seen dead or dying all throughout the region.
But on the flip side of the coin, we also saw some plants that have never looked better – like peonies, for example.
Peonies enjoy the cold winter and are one of the first perennials to start poking through the soil in February/March. This year was no exception, and even though we kept getting -5C or -10C nights in March and even into April, the peonies never skipped a beat.
And, amazingly, we are seeing some of the best blooms on them this year.
Peonies have long been regarded as one of the queens of the perennial beds.
They last for years in the same spot with very little attention.
They love the sunshine, so plant in an area that gets at least six hours of sun each day; they need just a touch of fertilizer in the spring, water when it gets too dry – but other than that, are very self sufficient.
While they are wonderful garden plants, they do have a ‘diva’ side to them, and don’t like being moved. If you do move or transplant them, do it in the fall, otherwise they will sulk and look unhappy for quite some time.
Our shifting weather patterns of extreme heat and extreme cold have not bothered peonies one little bit – something for which all gardeners are very grateful.
There are three types of peonies.
The standard, hardy herbaceous varieties offering a myriad of colours.
There’s the more delicate tree peony, tender in many areas but grown for its more interesting foliage and large floppy blooms.
And the Itoh peonies, hybrid crosses between the herbaceous and the tree peony.
The Itoh peonies offer the same hardiness of the herbaceous, but the lovely foliage and flowers of the tree peonies, making them extremely popular with collectors.
Popular varieties have always been ones like Raspberry Sundae, Sorbet, Coral Sunset and Pink Hawaiian Coral – but over the past few years, growers have made other ones more readily available – ones such as Jan Van Leeuwen with her big open white blooms and fluffy white centres that the bees just love; Angel Cheeks with big fluffy pale pink flowers that have a light layer of butter cream; and Paula Fay with her hot neon pink blooms.
The choices of bloom styles are also varied, from the big old-fashioned bomb-style to the open single form of the Japanese style that attracts the bees and butterflies. For beekeepers, the open-style peonies are a delight as the centres fill with activity when fully open.
And when the blooms are spent, just clip them off and enjoy the lovely foliage for the rest of the season, knowing that when they die down in the winter, they will return early in the new year bigger and more robust than before – despite the cold weather.
What more can a gardener ask for?
– Pam Erikson is owner of Erikson’s Daylily Gardens and Perennials and president of the Langley Garden Club.
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