Paeonia–Growing Peonies Outdoors For Cutting

Paeonia is the botanical name for peony and in addition to the familiar herbaceous kinds it covers several useful shrubs. Easiest to grow are Paeonia delavayi with single deep crimson flowers and P. lutea with single yellow flowers which are larger and better displayed in variety ludlowii.

All make quite large bushes 5 or 6 ft. high and flower in May, and all will grow freely in any reasonably fertile soil and sunny place. But they are not so spectacular as the varieties of P. suffruticosa, which are usually only 3 or 4 ft. high and have much bigger, often fully double flowers in a range of colours including pink, scarlet and crimson. There are also hybrids between P. suffruticosa and P. lutea with double yellow or yellow and red flowers.

All these need a rather sheltered position, not subject to severe spring frosts as they start to grow early and the young shoots are rather tender. They enjoy rather rich soil, not liable to dry out badly in summer but never waterlogged in winter.

Paeonia are hardy plants which will succeed both in low temperatures and under warm, dry conditions. The value of paeonies is further enhanced by the suitability of the blooms for cutting, since they have extremely long-lasting qualities. Arranged in large jars or vases, they will give tremendous pleasure, proving entirely satisfying to the most fastidious of flower arrangers. Many varieties have particularly beautiful foliage, some of which colour up well in the autumn.

The planting season extends from September until the first few days of March, although early autumn planting is undoubtedly best for quick establishment.

Soil requirements are not difficult and a situation can be prepared to enable the plants to give of their best. Deep trenching of the ground is advisable, providing drainage where necessary. Add old cow or stable manure, which should not contact the roots. The addition of bone meal at the rate of 2 ozs. Per sq. yd will provide the phosphates which paeonies require to do really well.

Chinese Paeonies

Deep planting is a mistake and the crowns should not be buried more than 2 in., in fact on heavy soils even less is advisable. A root with two to four eyes is greatly to be preferred to a large clump, since the latter will probably be hard and woody and less likely to establish itself quickly.

For May flowering, the single Sinensis or Chinese Paeonies are invaluable. Particularly useful for house decoration, the flowers have masses of conspicuous golden anthers and among the finest sorts are `The Moor’, dark chocolate-red; ‘Whitleyi-Major’, a vigorous pure white; ‘Beatrice’, blush pink, and the newer ‘Gay Ladye’, an attractive free-blooming deep rose.

As for the doubles, the array of tip-top varieties is amazing. The following are specially recommended because, in addition to their good growth and colour, they are superbly scented. ‘Baroness Schroeder’, pale flesh to snow white; `Duchesse de Nemours’, sulphur white to pure white, incurved petals; ‘Festiva Maxima’, white with central blotch of blood red, and ‘Sarah Bernhardt’, handsome apple-blossom pink with silver-tipped petals.

Besides the varieties mentioned, the Imperial section of paeonies flower in June. They have strong, shell-like outer petals, forming a wide, saucer-shaped flower which is half filled with smaller narrow petals, thus making a rosette, reminding one of a choice water-lily. They are just as hardy and as easy to grow as other herbaceous paeonies.

Paeonies are rarely affected with disease of any kind, the only likely trouble being die-back, sometimes known as wilt or rot. This botrytis disease will attack shoots at soil level in the spring. The young foliage wilts and turns brown, subsequently becoming covered with a grey mould. The trouble occasionally extends to the underground growths, although the plant is hardly ever killed.

Suspected plants should be sprayed with a copper fungicide and all discoloured foliage destroyed. When replanting, avoid a site where the disease is known to have occurred so as to minimise its spread.

Spring frosts will sometimes cause the flower-buds to turn brown and fall off. If plants are shaded from early morning sun such a happening, brought about by a quick thaw, will be avoided.

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