Rain-proof peonies

Judith Adam

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‘Coral and Gold’ peony. Photo courtesy of Blossom Hill Nursery.

Without fail, rain smashes the pale pink ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ peonies every year in early June, splattering the big double blooms across the lawn. (Peony rings and staking are no guarantee that a hard rain won’t shatter the flowers.) But not every peony is destroyed in a downpour.

‘Coral and Gold’ peony. Photo courtesy of Blossom Hill Nursery.
‘Coral and Gold’ peony. Photo courtesy of Blossom Hill Nursery.

I have three clumps of white single, lemon-scented ‘Jan van Leeuwen’ peony (Paeonia lactiflora ‘Jan van Leeuwen’) that stand straight up and are unphased by a storm. It would be good insurance to put more of these slightly shorter, single peonies into the garden in other colours, too.

Lush double peonies are seductive and hard to resist, but single peonies have their own allure. Singles have a generous ring of coloured guard petals surrounding a thick centre of golden stamens. There may be one ring, or as many as three overlapping rings of guard petals, increasing the fullness of the flowers, but not enough to allow rainwater to fill the blooms and take them down. Singles also tend to be shorter than the possibly 36- to 40-inch (90-cm to 1-m) height of doubles, making them less vulnerable to wind. The dramatic contrast between smooth guard petals and the thick centre of yellow stamens adds interest and vivacity to the blossoms.

My double peonies are dark and light pink, so I will be looking for more colour diversity. ‘Burma Joy’ has rich red petals and ‘Rubyette’ has dark mahogany red petals, both with bright yellow centres. ‘Coral and Gold’ with its suffusion of pink and orange is appealing, too. ‘Foxtrot’ has to go on the order list (plants are delivered in early fall), with its deep magenta guard petals along with ‘Cerise’, a unique peony with blue-pink petals and a white centre.

I’d also like to find some single species peonies that bloom early and lengthen the season. Molly the Witch (Paeonia mlokosewitschii) is a beautiful yellow, although sometimes the colour is variable and flowers might open pink. Another beauty is Paeonia veitchii, with three-inch (8-cm) magenta flowers, that can also be pale pink and sometimes white. These species peonies are quite beautiful early in spring. But they’re hard to find, and I’ll have to haunt plant sales for a while until they turn up. If you ever see them, grab them!

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3 thoughts on “Rain-proof peonies”

  1. The Canadian Peony Society is a terrific resource. The Facebook page is busy, busy now with amazing pix. There is a ‘members only‘ plant Sale coming up at the end of the summer. Membership fees are very low.

  2. Hi Jennifer,

    I’ve also come to the conclusion that peonies are for picking. I take the largest flowers from each clump, and leave the smaller secondary stems and blossoms in the garden. The secondary stems do just fine, and once their flowers are fully open, they seem in scale with the plant. And I don’t have any conscience about it!

    — Judith

  3. Hi Judith,
    I have been trying to figure out if my peonies are earlier this year than last. We got an early start to spring, but the month of May was so dry that I think the garden, and my peonies in particular, slowed down to a normal spring pace. They are only just now beginning to open.
    Recently, I visited the RBG in Hamilton and was very surprised to see that none of the peonies were staked. I am not sure what the garden would look like after a rain storm, but it looked beautiful in the bright sunshine. You can see my blog post here: http://threedogsinagarden.blogspot.ca/2012/05/peonies-to-die-for.html. It always amazes me to see how many different varieties of peonies there are.
    My own personal way of dealing with flopping peony flowers is to ruthlessly pick them all. I fill the house with vases of them! The only last a week or so in the garden, so why not enjoy them while you can.


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