The Problem With Peonies

My peonies peaked early this year,  catching me unprepared.  As a general rule, peonies are great plants for the novice or inconsonant gardener.  Once established, they can pretty much take care of themselves.  From scarlet and magenta to shell pink and pure white, the large blooms make great cut flowers, delivering a big “bang for the buck” .  The bloom types, ranging from “single” to “double bomb” add to the infinite varieties to choose from. 

"single bloom" peony"japanese" or "anenome" bloom"double" bloom"double bomb" bloomI created a serpentine bed in my garden devoted to them, which I have extended several times over the years. From late May to mid June, if the conditions are right, their crinkly blossoms and lush foliage make a dramatic statement in my yard, taking the reins from the lilacs as they begin to fade, and stepping aside just as my roses come into their own. 

My serpentine peony bed in its full gloryNote I wrote “if the conditions are right”.  Though their charms more than compensate for their defects, like anything of fleeting beauty and relative transience, they can have issues. Here are two problems I have with my peonies. 

 Several of my “double” and “double bomb” varieties suffer from what I refer to as the  “Jennifer Aniston Syndrome”.  Not unlike observing the starlet during her last few seasons on “Friends”, it is hard to understand how such a large beautiful head can be supported by the slender, seemingly fragile structure underneath it.   While the former Mrs. Pitt had access to an army of nutritionists, personal trainers and pilates instructors to keep her lollipop head gracefully erect, my peonies do not.  If not propped up, the stems don’t gently bow under the weight of their heavily blooming heads.  They collapse, folding over at sharp angles. 

Sometimes being a bit bottom-heavy might helpTo give them a hand, I now encircle some of the heavier bloomers with a low fence of chicken wire and stakes in the late spring, given them a little extra support.  At first I was worried about the negative aesthetics of this buttressing, but, as the plants mature, their leaves tend to obscure the framework and very few people notice it is there.  I like to think of them as peony “spanks”.   After the blooming period is over and I deadhead the plants, the little fences can be removed very easily.

A little chicken wire "boost"No amount of buttressing however, can save those same varieties from the “Wicked Witch of the West Syndrome” .  Similar to Dorothy’s chief antagonist, a heavy soaking of water doesn’t help their beauty.   It destroys it.  Light rain and misty days can aid and enhance the peony while in its adolescence.   Once mature however, the large number of small petals in the double bloom and bomb varieties tend to hold water.  What was once a delicately blossom wrought of pastel tissue paper one day, is a soggy mess of toilet paper sticking to the ground the next after a heavy rain.  There isn’t to my knowledge, a chicken wire fence, flying monkey or pilates instructor who can prevent this from happening.  


AfterMy only advice is, like making hay, to simply enjoy your peonies while the sun shines.

Northern Dutchess Botanical Gardens

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