Arrangements Using Peonies

To make a list of favourite flowers would be difficult indeed. W.H. Davies in his poem Flowers expresses the dilemma more than adequately:

‘What favourite flowers are mine, I cannot say — My fancy changes with the summer’s day ….’ a few lines later he goes on to say :

‘Sometimes I think the rose must have her place — And then the lily shakes her golden dice . . ‘

Certainly, when they put in their first appearance during May I think that the peony would be near the head of my list, with roses winning by a short head. Among the peonies my first favourite would surely be the well known dark red, despite all the wonderful new introductions from China and elsewhere. As Peter Hunt says, in his book Perennial Flowers for Small Gardens, ‘…there is nothing quite like the old cottage-garden peonies, the great double varieties of P. officinalis with their heavily fragrant flowers’.

Arrangements Using Peonies

But what about peonies for flower arrangement? Could anything be more valuable to introduce a solid touch of colour into a large group, or more charming to use alone, allowing the full beauty of the simple flower to be fully seen? Perhaps the only other flower which comes fairly close to the peony in the first of these requirements is either the rhododendron or the hydrangea, but yet neither of these have the same depth and quality of colouring. Going on to the second, I have found one peony arranged either with its own foliage or with short sprays of a suitably toned flowering shrub can be quite enough for one arrangement.

These are occasions when peonies, especially the much loved red cottage garden ones, seem top heavy on their stems: This is because the weight of the heavy flower head on the comparatively slight stem causes the flower to hang forward and give the impression of drooping. In such a case I have found it is best to cut the stem fairly short, though not too short (if too short the flower just falls forward and out of the vase altogether) and to make sure that the flower is well supported by other material in the arrangement.P. officinalis

One of the greatest charms of peonies, apart from lovely flowers, is their magnificent foliage. Of a most original shape, it is usually finely coloured, sometimes dark wine with a damson bloom, sometimes grey-green with mahogany coloured veins, and sometimes dark blue green veined and edged with a lighter green. In the autumn, before the leaves finally fall off, these colours become intensified.

The position of peonies in the garden is of some importance and should be studied carefully. They are excellent plants for semi shade and are usually happy if situated where the sun can get through light overhead foliage, such as that provided by cherry or almond trees. They seem to flourish on the borders of a shrubbery or even in open woodland. Miss Jekyll grew them together with Lenten roses as both plants like the same kind of feeding — a rich moist soil, supplemented in the spring and autumn with a good mulching of leaf mould.

It is sometimes suggested that peonies once planted in position in a garden do not like being moved. But this is not always so if great care is taken when the plant is dug up and re-planted. A friend told me of having to move from one house to another and of her unhappiness at the, thought of having to leave a favourite peony behind. (She had been brought up on the theory that they must on no account be moved.) At last, and with the greatest care, taking much of its surrounding soil, she dug up the peony. On arrival at the new garden it was immediately planted in its already prepared situation. The peony has not only survived the move but has flowered luxuriantly ever since.

The following short list gives a variety of types and colourings; most are listed in catalogues of well known nurserymen who deal in peonies:

Sarah Bernhardt — a soft apple blossom pink which looks almost as if it is tipped with silver, large frilled flowers.

Duchess de Nemours — a splendid white, sweetly scented, a very free flowering plant.

Karl Rosenfeld — a bright but deep red (one can imagine this colour being especially useful for a mixed group), crinkly petals and full, open flowers. Reine Hortense — this is a large, compact pale pink flower flushed with a deeper pink.

Madame Calot — a soft, pale pink, shading almost to cream. A good formation in the flower. All these peonies are hardy herbaceous plants flowering usually in late May and June. Tree peonies come out earlier in May, and are the first to flower and grow into sizeable shrubs. They like a well drained soil, dislike cow manure and in the autumn prefer matured leafmould.

Here are a few recommended for planting:

Yachiyo-Taubaki—(which in Japanese means long hedge of camellias is a very lovely bright pink with foliage of a deep bronze colouring. It is free flowering and lasts exceedingly well when cut.

Alice Harding (Kinko)—a good yellow tree peony.

Tama-Midori (known as green jade)—one of the finest of the tree peonies in what is described as a ‘brilliant scarlet.’ Free flowering with good foliage. Here are a few suggestions for using peonies with other flowers:

The dark red cottage-garden peonies, mixed with honesty seed pods — the pods must be at the green stage, i.e. before they dry off (they are still moist now and will need water). The red is a good foil for the deep green colouring of the honesty.

The same red peonies with dark blue delphiniums and white marguerites, for a large arrangement. For a group in varying shades of pink, a few pink peonies like Reine Hortense and Madame Calot with pink larkspur (the palest pink and the raspberry pink), pink valerian, some of the earliest of the Dr. Van Fleet roses, silver grey foliage — either garden ragwort, immortelle or Artemesia ludoviciana (lad’s love or southernwood) — and pink foxgloves. In a dark green and white group comprised of white peonies, perhaps Duchess de Nemours, with white larkspur, white campanulas, peony foliage, camellia foliage, and large hosta and bergenia leaves, with masterwort (Astrantia). In a pink and white arrangement made up of (Phdadelphus), a soft pink peony, perhaps Sarah Bernhardt, white campanulas, both soft pink and white larkspur, white delphiniums and a few magenta roses to add a deep touch of colour.

The double pink cottage peony, flowering in May, with pink Canterbury bells, pink tulips and early flowering pale pink false goat’s beard (Astilbe) and a background of copper coloured prunus gives an arrangement in soft pinks.

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