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.
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!