Twelve Perennial Planters took advantage of the beautiful day and a visit to the Peony Farm in Little Compton last month. Jane Roberts gave an informative presentation on the history, propagation and care of peonies, first known to be used by a Greek herbalist, Peon, and later developed by the Chinese into the beautiful plants we know today. Experimentation and cross-breeding continues as well, producing many new varieties with smaller (and less fragrant) blooms. A number of Planters had preordered plants and Jane had an additional selection ready to go, all at a 40% discount! She also had prepared for each of us a gift bag of a peony with 1-2 “eyes”, smaller than the usual plant, but ultimately just as lovely. We made a caravan trip down West Main Road to Trina’s beautiful home for a BYO brown bag lunch with drinks and desserts provided by Trina. We held a brief meeting with particular focus on the upcoming Zone II meeting hosted by the Newport Garden Club October 10-12, for which many Planters will submit flower arrangements, photographs, and horticultural specimens. It was wonderful to catch up with other members, especially in such a spectacular spot! Thank you, Trina!
Peony Presentation by Jane Roberts, The Peony Farm, Little Compton
The first person known to have used a peony plant was an herbalist in Greece, whose name was Peon. Later, they were developed by the Chinese into the beautiful plants we know today. The 1920’s was the heyday of peonies, when they were primarily single blossoms. We are all familiar with the more recent huge many-layered blossoms, fragrant and heavy, especially after a rain, requiring supportive staking. The industry is getting back to the single, simple blossom plants, which are better suited to areas with wind and water. Many of the new ones are unscented. The most fragrant peonies are the intersectional peonies, a cross between a tree peony and an herbaceous peony. The Japanese are also devotees of peonies, usually the fragrant varieties.
Dividing & Planting: Use a fork to dig up the large root system and lift. They don’t like to be moved in one clump. Trim roots; use a knife or saw to cut the plant in half (or more) before replanting. Plants with one to two buds (“eyes”) are OK, but 3-5 eyes will produce blooms faster. When replanting, dig a deep hole. Mix soil with compost and refill hole. Place plant with eyes up, 36” to center from the next plant. Cover with 1” (ONLY) of soil. Do not plant too close to a wall or under drips. They do best with up to six hours of sun. They also need approximately 30 days of frost. It is probably best not to plant in a pot, unless you can place it in a greenhouse during cold spells. Jane reminded us that peonies are strong plants—not delicate!
Care: Fertilize when first planted in the fall, with another treatment in the spring (20-20-20 or 10-10-10). There is no need to fertilize after these first two treatments. Peonies in general like arid conditions. They won’t bloom if buried too deep below compost/mulch/soil, or if too crowded. At the end of the next season, prune back foliage to 2’3”. If foliage has mildew/fungus or other signs of stress, do not put the clippings in your compost. Cut below any black foliage/stems and burn or take to dump. If a fungus, such as botrytis ,has developed on plants, be sure to put fresh soil in that spot if replanting there. Do not water from above; best to water from below, and as noted above, peonies are very drought-resistant. Staking: The new varieties are smaller and won’t need staking. The old-fashioned heavy blossoms will need staking or a cage to support these blooms, especially after rain.
Blossoms: Ants love the nectar of peonies! Jane suggests that when you cut some blossoms to bring indoors, you can dump them in a bucket of water to drown the ants. Cut early, when the buds feel like marshmallows. To extend the blooms and extend the “season”, Jane has developed a system in which you cut early and wrap the stems/blossoms in slightly damp newspaper, wrap tightly in drycleaner weight plastic, lay horizontally in plastic boxes and store in your refrigerator. Remove when ready to display.
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