I can count on one hand the number of times Steve has given me flowers. But he redeemed himself this Christmas with three bare root peonies.
They arrived on December 18th. Luckily he realised they couldn’t sit around under the tree for a week, so I was given them early. I loosely covered the roots in compost and scribbled down the names ready to Google them on Christmas morning.
Fair play, he chose some stunners. Akashigata, a lavender coloured Japanese tree peony, Border Charm a pale yellow intersectional and Emodii an early flowering white herbaceous variety.
Tree peonies are actually hardy shrubs. They have woody stems and can be slow to get going, but eventually reach anywhere between four and seven foot high. Intersectionals are a tree/herbaceous hybrid, their stems die down at the end of the growing season but their leaves and flowers resemble those of tree peonies.
For days I deliberated over where to put them. Peonies are long-lived and the herbaceous ones aren’t too keen on being moved about. My usual ‘stick it in and see what happens’ approach wasn’t going to cut it.
In the end I split the three of them up. Border Charm has joined my existing pair of herbaceous peonies by the back door. Coral Charm and Karl Rosenfeld are thriving in this sunny spot. It’s already planted with crocuses too, which intermingle nicely with the bright red other-worldly peony stems that shoot up early spring.
Emodii apparently tolerates shade pretty well, so I’ve put her under the apple and silver birch trees alongside a clump of Alba foxgloves. I feel a white theme coming on down here in the dappled light which I might take further this year.
I agonised over Akashigata. I made up, then changed, my mind three or four times. Tree peonies’ emerging buds can be frazzled by the sun on frosty mornings. Much of our garden is exposed to the east so my options were limited.
I stripped back an area of grass to put her in one spot. Then I remembered it was right in the path of our spaniel’s regular mad-dash garden circuit, so I had to think again.
In the end I put her at the back edge of an island border. It’s an obscure position for such a beautiful plant. But I hope she can quietly establish herself there without coming to any harm. It could be up to four years before she flowers and I think we’ll enjoy stumbling across her in full bloom one summer’s evening when we’ve all but forgotten about her.
If Steve gets really lucky, one of my new peonies might bloom in time for my birthday in June. He’ll never need to buy me flowers again.
The hollyhocks are coming out. One flower quietly unfurls, then it creates a domino effect up the stem. I like to imagine how it would look on one of those sped-up film sequences that were so popular in natural history documentaries in the 80s.
I’m beginning to realise that the garden is full of noiseless drama. Like when the giant poppies’ hairy pods suddenly popped to reveal a flash of rumpled satiny scarlet. And when the tight, fat peony buds unpeeled their blousy blooms one petal at a time.
We can see it in Bobbie James, the rambling rose who is flinging himself up the pear tree. And of course in the squash plants that are almost frightening in their quest for garden-domination.
Our gardening has mostly taken a ‘stick it in and see what happens’ approach so far. We are talking about being a bit more planned next year. But I don’t think rigid colour schemes or structured planting are ever going to be our thing.
Instead, I wonder if we can plan our planting for dramatic effect, so that we are drawn to different corners and heights of the garden through the seasons. Could we let rambling roses loose up more of the trees – so when they flower it will be like switching on the Christmas lights. Could we fill the far, neglected corners with masses of bulbs so we get a carpet of colour calling us into the icy early spring air. Could we make better use of light at different times of the day and year to spotlight certain plants and trees.
The possibilities are endless. But there’s another thing I’m beginning to realise. As we get more ambitious in the garden, our stick it in and see what happens approach is only going to become more pronounced.
What are your favourite garden dramas? Please share…
When the time came, it was raining. And besides, she was tired and wanted to watch Pingu instead.
I set her up with a DVD and escaped to the garden by myself for a few minutes. This is what I saw…
I may have turned into one of those people who looks skyward and says ‘well, it’s good for the garden’ when it rains on a summer’s day…
One day last summer, my lovely friend Anna turned up with a gift of three voluptuous pink peonies.
There was something so decadent about the way they only lasted a day before lazily shedding their petals. I was hooked, and decided I had to have some in the garden.
It was the middle of winter when I finally got around to ordering some bare root plants. I poured over the Kelways website for hours before settling on Coral Charm and Karl Rosenfeld.
We planted them quite late – I think it was mid January – but the ground wasn’t frozen so we put them in and hoped for the best.
Within weeks, peculiar red shoots were poking out of the soil. We have watched with fascination as they have grown and developed into healthy young plants.
Apparently peonies can sulk a bit when moved, and don’t always flower in their first year. Karl Rosenfeld seems to be taking his time, lots of lovely foliage but doesn’t look like he will flower for us yet. Coral Charm produced two fat, round buds – the first of which suddenly burst open today.
This autumn we’re going to plant crocuses and primroses around them to combine with next spring’s red shoots.
The flowers are fleeting, but part of the enjoyment is in the waiting.