Friday, May 27, 2016

May and Peony Dream Gardens

Rhododendron in Bloom
     As happens so frequently, Chicago has jumped from late winter to early summer, with 'spring" lasting about three days. Once more we will be planting our tomatoes and other warm weather annuals on Memorial Day weekend.

     But there has been a riot of bloom this month. More flowers are popping out  than I can mention and  a few dreams have revived as well. Some of these revolve around beds dedicated to a single species. It  is possible to extend the life of some of your favorites by carefully choosing cultivars for their bloom time.

     Peonies are among the most showy flowers in the garden, but the individual plants  are also among the most fleeting. The species itself, however, has early, middle and late bloomers, so you can stretch your  season by looking for early bloomers like Raspberry Ice or late bloomers like Doris Cooper. 

      You can stretch the peony season even more by including tree peonies -- arguably the most spectacular bloom on the North American continent. Here is an illustration of the potential  stretch.


     This tree peony sneaked up on me.  Tree peonies start blooming in April, but it was May 12 before I got around to taking a photo.  Meanwhile, as of May 26 my herbaceous peonies were  still barely budding.


     The second plant to open was actually a tree peony that reverted to a herbaceous form.

     Note  the contrast between this guy and his herbaceous cousin to the left.


     Yesterday the first of my herbaceous buds finally opened, so I have a few more weeks of glory.

    Finally, the real treat for peony lovers are the Itoh peonies. A cross between the tree and herbaceous peony, these gorgeous plants  have the huge, spectacular blooms of the tree peony, but on short sturdy stems that do not flop, but do die down in winter. These peonies are the last to bloom and keep blooming through June. A  mature plant  can produce up to 50 flowers in one season.

     For decades very expensive and therefore rare, Itoh's have finally made the mass market. I saw a display for them at Home Depot this week. I do not yet have one of my own,  but I am still waiting for a client who wants me to  design a peony garden.

1 comment: