Wednesday, 1 June 2011

In praise of peonies

Paeonia lactiflora ‘Sarah Bernhardt’

Firstly, I should say, hurrah, it’s June! At least, I think that deserves a ‘hurrah’ – the year is rushing past so quickly and gardens everywhere seem to be gathering momentum, building towards either a most amazing, bountiful crescendo of floral splendour, or a parched, arid period of drought where only the toughest of our Mediterranean garden imports looks chipper. Ever the optimist, my money’s on the former...after all, Wimbledon fortnight is soon upon us, and so rain is inevitable.

But secondly, I am in love. Again. With a flower. Well, a genus – peonies have really captured not only my eye but my heart too this past year. What a fantastically, beautiful, unapologetically blousey flower, on wonderful, deep green foliage. It lifts the borders and the spirits. We have the double-flowered ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ in one border – the heavy, ruffled, soft pink blooms like so many petticoats, weighing down the stems and requiring constant tying in so as not to become victim to the breeze or short bursts of rain but, oh so worth the effort. In the opposite border, a much deeper, scarlet-flowered Paeonia lactiflora ‘Karl Rosenfeld’ catches the eye, with its rich yellow pollen laden anthers peeking out from wine-coloured petals. And somewhere in a corner sulks ‘Shirley Temple’ – she obviously requires more of the limelight and will have to be moved for next spring if we’re to get the most from her large, pale pink flowers which fade to white.

Paonia lactiflora ‘Karl Rosenfeld’

Next year, I have designs on a tree peony which bewitched a friend when we went to Wisley in May – Paeonia rockii – white flowers as big as a plate, with a splash of maroon in the centre. Magic.

Paeonia rockii at the RHS Gardens, Wisley. With thanks to Louise Burgess for the image