A note on peonies

When it comes to my garden, I have a particular weakness and that is flowers. When it comes to flowers, again I have a specific weakness and that is Peonies. I adore them. They’re top heavy, a little fussy, and take up lots of space, but only flower for a few weeks a year. It makes very little sense to grow them.

But, to me, those few weeks are worth it. Ialso felt I should add some peonies to our border because we had them at our wedding. I love cut flowers (more on this in future posts) and chose to do our wedding flowers myself, so I wanted something simple for the table arrangements that wouldn’t take up too much time. Eventually, I decided on a row of small glasses down the table centres, containing individual peonies that I had kept in the sun to get them open at the right time. They were Peonia Coral Charm – very popular in floristry, especially for weddings. Whilst I’m more naturally drawn to dark red hughes in garden colour schemes, I couldn’t resist adding these beauties to our garden, if only for sentimental reasons! So far we have 4 young plants, which I added 3 years ago. I bought them whilst pregnant and (as a consequence) in a hurry, so I sourced them though the RHS who could do a quick delivery. They came carefully packed, in good condition and flowered happily that year. If you’re thinking of planting peonies next Spring I’d also recommend taking a look at Claire Austin. More generally, she has a fabulous selection of perennials, with wonderfully honest plant descriptions, but she also specialises in peonies, including Coral Charm.

The plants I bought are maturing now and are producing at least 4 buds each. This spring I surrounded them with manure (trying to avoid the tender shoots to give them a bit of a boost) and have been careful to keep them well watered while the buds were forming.

They have the most beautiful, red tips early in the year, when there’s so little other colour.

As I said at the time, once the leaves had appeared they suffered rather cruelly at the hands of our builders. Fortunately there were no buds at the time and they recovered relatively well. I staked them once they were larger, as the heads can get very heavy. This was a quick fix at the time though and next year I think I will try to get some basic ring supports for them. I can’t justify the expense at the moment, but ideally I’d love something a bit more attractive though, like these bronze supports from RHS.

One of the things I (and many florists) love about Coral Charm, specifically, is the beautiful variation that you get in colour as the flowers form and bloom. Below is a series of photos to show you how they changed this year. The first buds, once the soft outer curl of a petal begins to appear, are a shockingly rich pink. They are so tight that at first it seems as if they’ll never open. Until they do.

A shock of pink appears on the buds.
And then the petals begin to open.

It only took a couple of warm and very humid days at the end of May for those tight round buds to flutter open and shyly reveal a tangerine interior. Just as our wedding anniversary arrives, the ‘Coral’ in these flowers appears. The transition from shocking pink to coral normally happens over the space of just one day.

A hot pink bud opens.
The Coral hue appears.

The result is hot and bright, but stunning. One or two more days and the colour softens. This is the stage I grow them for. Big and blowsy, soft and warm – these blooms are unashamedly romantic and make the modest incredible statement in the garden or as a cut flower. Then, like the coming of sunset, that soft peach hue fades to a pale yellow, then almost white. After this, the petals fall within a day or two.

The full romance of Peony Coral Charm at the peak of its blooming life.
The yellow tone sets in.
The last days.

The last of my peonies shed those pale yellow petals this week and I’m sorry to see them go. In all, they only brought 4 weeks of colour to the garden. It makes no sense to devote so much time and effort to them. And yet, I will happily put the effort in for them again next Spring, all in hope of that glorious month next year when there is nothing that can even begin to compare to them.

6 thoughts on “A note on peonies

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