A fine silver peony by Anne Choi, my favourite bead maker.

California peony.

Athena, a Saunders peony.

Duchesse de Nemours.

It is time to plant peonies. My choices, Duchess de Nemours and Baroness Schroeder, date back to the mid-eighteen hundreds. That happens to coincide with the period when French hybridisers released more than a hundred Noisette roses into the global market. West Virginia is not Noisette country. They need warmer climate such as that of South Carolina where Philippe Noisette brother grew the first Blush Noisette from seeds of a cross between a pink China rose and R.moschata. White, fragrant Sombreuil is an exception to that rule. It grows beautifully in Zone 6 and I suspect that Gloire de Dijon would do fine if planted next to a wall with southern exposure.

Good old Festiva Maxima partners my Sombreuil well–my Gloire de Dijon is still its infancy–but just as one can never be too rich, one can never have enough peonies. The good thing is there is a huge variety from which to choose. The bad thing is that there is a huge variety from which to choose. Peek at Klehm’s Song Sparrow catalog and you will see how easy it would be to fling caution to the window and order a truckload of, say, Saunders’ Athena. Multiply sixty dollars by a truckload and you might be flirting with insolvency. It might be more sensible to pick Coral Charm, which costs only twenty four dollars. But either is a good investment. Peonies multiply and they usually outlive those who plant them. What better legacy to leave than a lovely peony border?
Gardeners who prefer all American plants might want to look at California peonies, one of our native species. I have no problems with immigrants. French, Japanese, Dutch peonies are all welcome in my garden. I am currently eyeing the yellow Bartsella, an Itoh peony. It would look lovely with Gloire de Dijon.


Gardeners need incentives from time to time. It is a given that as the temperature and humid climb, energy flags to the point that some of us need to fix our hopes on future rewards. Mid-June is one of the stages of intense work in my garden. Basically, I am trying to tame a jungle that wants to revert to its original state. Consequently, it requires constant vigilance as an increase in rainfall infuses new crops of weeds and invasive trees with astonishing vigor.
This is the time plant nurseries choose for hard to resist sales. My mailbox overflows with tantalising offers from some of my favorite purveyors of glorious plants–Whiteflower Farms, Bluestone Perennials, Jung Seeds and Logee’s, among others. Being a plant lover rather than I designer, I succumb. That is how I find myself in possession of twenty four peonies–the white Baroness Schroder, pink Sarah Bernhardt and red Kansas, and assortment of yellow and blue German irises. This only awakens my appetite for more, more and more bulbs and rhizomes whose flowers I will enjoy at a cooler and less hectic time.
Ideally, I would plant a huge drift of white peonies–the beginnings, perhaps of a moon garden. would choose Nick Shailor, Duchesse de Nemours and Bowl of Cream. To those I would I would add Bridal Icing, Camellia Heart, Crystal Cream, Elsa Sass and Moonstone, all available at Klehm’s Song Sparrow, home of some of the most delectable peonies. Those should do nicely with the white Fialla’s Remembrance, Krasavitsa Moscow and Edith Cavell lilacs I bought from Bluestone Perennials, Jung’s seeds and miller’s Nurseries, respectively. The white peonies I got from Freecycle last summer bloomed so beautifully with my Sombreuil rose I can envision an enormous border filled with peonies and roses. My budget is the catch. In order to execute such a plan I need to hire a couple of sturdy helpers, come up with amendments for the impoverish soil that lies beneath the lawn, as well as pay for the plants I will no doubt decide I must add to the border.
I will probably order a few more peonies though June seems a strange time in which to plant them. Those I added to the garden last year did well and that convinced me to take advantage of summer sale. My purchases will be modest, all the same. In theory, I will get truckloads of roots and rhizomes. In practice, I will pare my list to suit my means. That is OK. I am hard pressed to keep up with the garden as it is.