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The Pleasure of Peonies

Let me introduce you to Sarah. She makes her presence known every spring when she arrives with a surge of energy in my garden. Each year she looks better, always dressed flamboyantly in pink and always wearing the same subtle scent.

Sarah, or Sarah Bernhardt to use her full name, is the only Peony I grow in my herbaceous border. I planted two of them 4 years ago and they are now mature plants which reliably send up twenty or more blooms every year. They provide a fantastic show and ample flowers for cutting – the only down side is they don’t last very long.

Some people seem to have great difficulties getting peonies to flower but the experts say it really shouldn’t be. The number one mistake is planting them too deeply. The bit where the stems meet the tuber shouldn’t be more than 5cm below the soil. They like well drained ground and they prefer full sun although in my garden one of the plants is in semi-shade and it seems happy enough.

You can buy them in pots already in active growth or you can buy tubers and plant them in the Autumn. Putting in bare-root tubers is my preferred method and it will probably get you flowers more quickly.

Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Herbaceous Peonies do have one major fault – many will just flop to the ground if they aren’t supported and so I have a permanent u-shaped wire support in the ground beside mine.

If you are feeling flush you could try what’s called an intersectional peony. This is a cross between a tree peony and a herbaceous peony. The flowers apparently last longer and the woody stems are more capable of holding those large blousy blooms aloft.

This year Sarah will no longer be alone – she is being joined by Karl - Karl Rosenfield. Like Sarah he carries large, fragrant double flowers. Here’s hoping they get along.