By Gena Goddard
I think that May should be Peony month. The glorious peony is already known as the Memorial Day flower. Why not celebrate it all month? My first peonies have already started blooming. The first to bloom is always the tenuifolia, fern leaf peony and probably one of the original flowers which was bred into the myriad of varieties we have today, the most common being the full double. The hybridizers of the 19th and 20th centuries started with average sized flowers with many yellow stamens and turned the stamens into staminoids which they were able to turn into petals. Sometimes science is a bit magical and hybridizers capitalized on that petal formation to make a huge fully petaled blossom sometimes 6” across.
The next to bloom are the tree peonies (paeoniasuffruticosa). I stuck two bushes together which bloom at the same time The first bush to bloom has dark magenta flowers, then a taller bush with large white flowers bloom above a week later. These blooms are large and the texture reminds me of crepe paper flowers made in Mexico. Then the yellow tree bush blooms. It is an older bush at least 10 years old, but retains its small stature of only about 3 feet tall.
After the tree peonies are done there is a little lull of about a week or two and then the herbaceous peonies (Paeonialactiflora)start. I have the old standard, ‘festiva maxima’ white double with red flecks which blooms early and then my favorite pink Mrs. F.D.R. It is so delicate with its longer petals. Then finally the reds like Karl Rosenfeld. By that time the month of May is over and so I fertilize with an all-purpose 5-5-5 and relax and let all my plants have a leisurely summer storing energy for next year.
When fall arrives the leaves turn a dark red and just before the first frost I cut them back to a couple of inches above ground so that I know where they are for next spring. This fall I plan on digging up many of my plants and dividing them because the grass has invaded the whole bed and needs to be eradicated before I replant them back. When dividing dig up root, wash off most of the dirt so you can see the eyes for next year’s growth. Saw the root so that you have 3-5 eyes per root. I am not looking forward to this task. When I replant I will make larger holes about 2’ diameter and in depth. I will also put lots of compost mixed with the native soil into the hole so that the eye is no deeper than 2” below the ground level.
There isn’t a peony that I have seen that I don’t like. I saw a native peony at Hyatt Lake and it’s little brown blossom was demurely hidden under the leaves.
Places I recommend for herbaceous peonies are Adelman’s Peonies in Salem, Oregon and Deason’s Peonies in Ashland, Oregon . For tree peonies, I recommend Brothers Herbs and Peonies in Wilsonville, Oregon.