Peonies have captivated the world. The “old red Piney,” that charming, old-fashioned flower, is hardly as popular as it was in days now past, because the new, lovely and more delicately tinted varieties, which have been recently introduced, are crowding their old relative into the background. Peonies in great masses are now found growing around the small cottage out in the village or country, along roads and woodland paths, in gardens throughout the large cities and around the mansions of the wealthy where they seem to have truly assumed that aristocratic yet charming air so in keeping with the occasion. There is no other hardy flowering plant which grows in the Northern States and endures the Northern Winters as does the Peony. Massive without being coarse, fragrant without being pungent, grand without being gaudy, various in form and color, beyond the possibility of being successfully superseded, they stand in the first rank of hardy flowers.
The genus Paeonia is divided into two sub-heads, the Shrubby or Tree Peonies and the Herbaceous.
Peonies are grown both for their flowers and beautiful foliage. From the time the red shoots first appear early in Spring, when the flowers in an almost endless number of colors are massed on the bushes, and when the glossy green foliage takes on the autumnal tints of vivid carmine, purple, amethyst and orange, Peonies are in great demand. The average height is from 2 feet to 4 feet, each plant spreading out to almost the same distance. The flowers are borne either singly or in groups of two or three.
There are single blooms very much like a wild Rose, except in size; semi-double flowers and double ones which are a round mass of uneven petals. Some of the flowers are so large and heavy that it often becomes necessary to prop them up so that the Spring rains will not dash them into the mud. The leaves are smooth, dark, glossy and divided. The colors of the flowers range from purest white with a mass of golden stamens in the center through all the shades of pink to the darkest of reds and purples. There are also some pleasing yellow varieties.
Many of the newer varieties are delicately rose-scented which makes them very much more valuable because the offensive odor of the early red “Piney” has been done away with. Some of the varieties do not last very long, but if early and late varieties are planted, a succession of bloom can be had which will last for six or seven weeks. The greater majority of them are in bloom from about the middle of May on through June. The earlier blooming varieties combine well with many bulbs, especially Daffodils. Narcissi, Scillas, Gladioli and Lilies are very charming when planted in among the Peonies, while Michaelmas Daisies, Delphiniums, Gaillardias and Lobelias make a very suitable background.
How to use Peonies
Peonies can be used in almost any position in any garden. These plants are equally at home planted as single specimens on the lawn, in tall grass, in the woods, or planted in beds and borders with other perennials and bulbous plants, or when massed by themselves. Peonies can be planted along woodland paths, at the ends and edges of shrubbery groups, at the bases of stone walls, or along drives and walks. They are at home in almost any situation, naturalizing as readily in woodland copses as in formal gardens. They make a rather dense growth and are often used in place of low hedges.
As for cut flowers they are absolutely invaluable. If they are cut just as the bud is about to open and are placed in a cool room, the blooms will last many days. Since the newer varieties are sweetly scented, the flowers are now used to a greater extent in homes in vases, bowls and baskets. The stems are long, stiff and are splendid to use for decorative purposes for large functions where large flowers of rich_ coloring are needed.
Where to plant Peonies
Peonies abundantly repay good care and nourishment and do not require a great deal of care after they are once established.
Types of Peonies
S.-Single, showing (g), guard petals; (s), stamens; (c), carpels or lobes of pistil. J.-Japanese type; stamens wider than in single. B.-Bomb type. The stamens become narrow petals, called petaloides. SD.-Semi-double. Many petaloides are quite wide and are mixed among the stamens. C.-Crown. The stamens are wider and petal-like. The carpets, which before have remained unchanged, are now petal-like. R.-Rose. In this type there is an entire transformation of the bloom.
The preparation of the soil is one of the biggest factors in growing healthy plants. They are heavy feeders and require a deeply prepared soil. The best soil is heavy loam, one which is not too heavy with clay nor too light with sand. Stiff yellow clay, a sour soil or an abundance of fresh manure in the soil hinder the proper growth of the roots and plant. The bed should be prepared very deeply, the soil is mixed with well-rotted cow manure. Each plant should be given a space 3 feet in diameter for its development. The soil should be retentive of moisture, yet well-drained, for the plants rot out if the ground is so low that the water will stand in pools around the plant during the Winter. The manure should not be mixed among the roots, but clean soil should be next to the roots and then the manure. The roots should be set in the soil so that the top eye is not more than 2 inches or 3 inches from the surface.
When the plants have finished blooming in the Summer, work must be begun to insure a good next year’s crop. Weeds should be kept down all during the Summer, for they rob the soil of its richness. The first Winter the roots are loose in the soil and will need a good coating of manure as a mulch applied after the ground is thoroughly frozen. This will prevent the roots from being heaved out of the ground, due to alternate freezing and thawing. The manure should not be allowed to remain about the plants in the Summer but worked into the soil. Diseases are spread by the presence of manure.
When once planted, Peonies should be left alone for a number of years, except for dividing and replanting, which should be done every eight or ten years. It has been said that Peonies fade and lose their colors so readily. The delicate pink varieties fade to white. This can be remedied by either cutting the stems when the bud is about to open or by erecting a cheesecloth screen over the plants. This prevents the hot sunlight from bleaching out the color.
Although Peonies are free from insects, they are very subject to pernicious bud rot. Many Peonies which do not seem able to mature their buds are affected with this disease. It can be prevented by avoiding manure about the crowns of the plants and by spraying weekly from the first signs of Spring until sometime in May. Bordeaux Mixture is the proper spray to use. Many Peonies have two, three or more buds to a single stem. If it is a single variety they should be left as they are because the spray effect of flowers produced is very attractive. But with the large double sorts, all except the largest center bud (terminal) should be removed. This disbudding throws all the strength and food into one flower, which is larger, finer and better in color. The buds should be removed when small.
How to propagate Peonies
Peonies are usually propagated by division of the clumps, but it is a slow process, taking from three to five years for characteristic blooms to appear. The tubers or roots resemble those of Rhubarb. The best time to divide them is during September or October. However, they may be divided and transplanted any time from the middle of August until the ground freezes in the Fall. If the plants are well established, they will improve every year. Peonies may be propagated by seeds which are sown as soon as they are ripe in cold frames where they should be kept for a year before transplanting. The seed should never be allowed to become thoroughly dry, for when once thoroughly dried it may take two years or longer for the seeds to germinate. The first blooms are never typical of the plants; it takes from four to eight years to produce characteristic blooms. One must remember that growing Peonies from seed is interesting, not practical