Elise Schlaijker’s extensive gardens will be a part of the Greenfield Garden Club’s annual garden tour which will be held on Saturday, June 25 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Schlaijker is one of those gardeners who loves food gardens and flower gardens equally, although she admits that the big 30 x 30 foot vegetable and fruit garden was her first priority when she moved to Greenfield eight years ago. I wrote about Schlaijker when her gardens were new in 2010. Now that she is 82 and has come through a back surgery, she has made some adjustments in her routines. The chicken house is empty. Handling water and feed during the winter became too difficult so the hens were given away.
While she showed me around the side garden which she can view from her large deck, two young men were buzzing around the lawns and the labyrinth. “I no longer mow the lawns myself,” she said with a smile.
The deck itself is decorated with houseplants brought out for the summer, and is ringed with Gold Heart bleeding heart and a variety of hostas. The side garden’s large lawn is ornamented with shrub and perennial beds. These contain familiar and beloved plants like rugosa roses in red and white, other shrub roses, lilacs, herbaceous peonies and an exuberant climbing hydrangea in one corner.
Bartzella, Itoh peony
However, a gardener is always finding new enthusiasms. In addition to the beautiful and familiar herbaceous peonies, Schlaijker has added Itoh, or intersectional, peonies, to her plantings. Itoh peonies are a hybrid created by crossing herbaceous peonies with tree peonies. Like herbaceous peonies Itoh’s are cut back in the fall, but the advantage is that they hold their blossoms high, even in the rain, and have a longer bloom period because they have primary and secondary buds. When Itoh peonies were first made available they were very expensive, but they are now more reasonable in price. In any event, Schlaikjer says, “I indulge myself in the plants I love.”
On the other side of the house is a wild looking bog garden, which includes a buttonbush, a dappled willow and a handsome crane. There is also a sweeping quarter moon bed that includes two dappled willows, a redbud and two more Itoh peonies. I was particularly looking at all the graceful curves in her garden which are so elegant and pleasing.
A gently curving path edged with wide flower borders leads to the stone labyrinth. When she built labyrinth I was one of the people who brought a stone to help build it. Schlaijker meditatively walks the labyrinth almost every day, but the building of the labyrinth included the connections to, and love of, a whole community. In the center of the labyrinth is a tiny gazebo. Inside the tiny gazebo is an extraordinary, throne-like chair. This was carved from a maple tree trunk by a friend in Michigan where she had lived for so many years. This throne, with its carvings of a bear, turtle, squirrel and other creatures, is comfortable and magical. If you hum or sing while sitting on the throne you can feel and hear the reverberations of sound.
Elise Schlaijker’s gazebo in the center of her labyrinth
The flower borders leading to the labyrinth are filled with more Itoh and herbaceous peonies, nepeta, foxgloves, irises, and sedums. The borders include flowers as exotic as the Itoh peonies, but also as humble as the local native yellow foxgloves.
Of course, the fenced and netted vegetable garden is a very important part of Schlaijker’s garden. There are raised beds for vegetables, but it turns out that nets do not deter burrowing creatures like voles, moles – and rats. “Nowadays I can’t grow root crops, carrots, potatoes, beets . . . critters eat every one,” she said. Still she is able to grow lots of greens: collards, kale, broccoli, chard as well as garlic, tomatoes, lettuce, squash, and cucumbers as well as parsley and basil.
One section of the fenced vegetable garden is given over to highbush blueberries and a black currant bush. That section is netted over the top when the berries begin to ripen.
Beauty is to be found even when she walks towards the vegetable garden provided by a bed including Japanese primroses, goatsbeard, clematis, and European ginger which she insists spreads itself generously. Here and there are bowls of water on the ground to satisfy the thirst of birds, or perhaps even a toad or two.
Elderberries and different raspberry varieties that give her a long season grow beyond the fenced garden. Schlaijker also has several apple trees, but her peach tree is no more.
Elise Schlaijker’s garden is just one of the nine unique gardens on the tour, each with its own special attractions.
Tickets to the Greenfield Garden Club Garden Tour can be purchased ahead of time at the World Eye Bookstore for $15. Or call Jean Wall at 773-9069. On the day of the tour tickets will be $18 and can be purchased at 40 High Street. Those who have bought tickets at the World Eye must also go to 40 High Street to pick up a map for this self-guided tour. There will be curb-side service.
Between the Rows June 18, 2016
Lion’s Fairy Tale rose, Kordes
I am so happy with my Lion’s Fairy Tale Rose, one of Kordes Fairy Tale Series. I planted it last summer and did not expect nor get any flowers. Still, it took hold and came through our odd winter weather, mild until it got bitter cold very late in the season. One of the things I like is the way it produces clusters of bloom.
Lion’s Fairy Tale Rose
I love the creaminess of this white rose as it begins to bloom. I am not the only one to consider this a magnificent rose. In 2002 it won the German ADR Rose Award and in 2006 it was given a Gold Medal in the Gold Standard Rose Trials. The foliage is almost as beautiful as the rose.
Full blown bloom of Lion’s Fairy Tale rose
The full blown blossom remains lovely. This rose will grow to be about four to five feet tall with a fairly upright growth habit. I realize now that I planted it too close to Thomas Affleck which is quite a large rose, and will have to move it in the fall when it goes dormant. It will move to the North Border (which gets plenty of sun) where Fantin Latour and the Alchymist climber have also taken up a new residence.
Passionate Nymph’s Thigh rose
Thirty-five years have passed since I planted my first rose bush in Heath. In the months before our move from New York City I read and re-read Onward and Upward in the Garden by Katharine White. It was her experience and thoughts about roses that particularly touched my dreams of a romantic garden in the country. I had never grown roses, and never even really paid much attention to roses. My dreams and limited experiences had been with herbs and vegetables.
That book inspired me to plant my first rose, Passionate Nymph’s Thigh, from Roses of Yesterday and Today. Who could resist that name? Over time I bought more roses from that nursery, focusing on roses of yesterday like the Queen of Denmark, Fantin-Latour, Celsiana and the Rose of Ispahan. These were hardy antique roses that were fragrant and disease free.
Applejack, Buck rose
I did add modern roses over time, including Buck roses hybridized by Griffith Buck for cold hardiness. Applejack, one of my favorite roses, was a hardy Buck rose. These were not noted for their fragrance, however. I also added more and more rugosas that were hardy, disease free and fragrant. MountBlanc is my favorite white rugosa, and Dart’s Dash an energetic deep pink was also a favorite.
I also collected roses from friends like Rachel’s Rose, Purington Pink and the Buckland Rose. There is only one drawback to all these roses. Most of them are fragrant, but none of them bloom all summer.
Purington Pink closeup
Of all those roses, it is only the hardy and energetic Purington Pink that I brought with me to the new Greenfield garden. But it is not the only rose I planted.
Over the years I learned more about efforts by hybridizers to create hardy roses that do bloom for a long season. These new hybridizing efforts were brought about by environmental concerns about poisons used on roses, and new attitudes toward proper garden management. Several years ago, after meeting Peter Kukielski who was then curator of the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at the New York Botanical Garden, a new world of long blooming, disease resistant, and often fragrant roses opened up for me.
Kukielski is currently working with the American Rose Trials for Sustainability which has been running rose trials in different locations for the past few years. In 2017 they will announce their first round of sustainable roses. The A.R.T.S. website (www.americanrosetrialsforsustainability.org) declares “ . . . strict trialing protocol ensures that every A.R.T.S.® trial garden is ‘no spray.’ Remember, the goal is to identify the rose varieties which need little to no input. Ensuring that no pest control products or fertilizers are applied to the plants within the experiment ensures that we get accurate real world results which are both reliable and repeatable.”
Lion’s Fairy Tale – Kordes rose
I cannot wait for the first trial results, because I want more roses in my new garden which is much smaller and has particular problems. What does a rose bush need? Roses must have at least 6 hours of sun to thrive and produce good bloom. Roses need good air circulation. Roses need good soil that is rich in humus, has a pH between 6 and 6.5, and drains well.
Roses need water, but they do not like to have their feet wet. Sections of my new garden are very sunny, and I can build good soil, but most of my soil is heavy clay that does not drain well. I have to find areas that will not leave the roses in standing water during the spring thaw or after long, heavy rains.
Thomas Affleck rose in Heath
Although I knew I was taking a gamble I could not let a whole garden year go by without planting some roses. The south side of our lot gets plenty of sun, and the soil is better there than in the backyard. Last spring and early summer we started planting our shrub border which includes hydrangeas, lilacs, and a viburnam.
When choosing roses for this garden I tried to use all I have learned over the years. I again planted the pink centifolia Fantin-Latour for its history and romance even though it will bloom for a short season. I also planted the low and dependable pink polyantha The Fairy and Knockout Red. Knockout Red is an EarthKind rose, and you can count on any EarthKind rose to be beautiful and dependable, even though it is not fragrant.
Some of the roses I chose are new varieties that are considered groundcover roses, not as tall as other rose bushes, very full and bushy with a long bloom season. These include Oso Easy Paprika, and Peach Drift. Purple Rain, Polar Express, the pink Zaide and creamy Lion’s Fairy Tale are all hybrids from Kordes with good disease resistance. Kukielski told me I could count on all Kordes roses to be among the best long blooming, disease resistant roses I could have. Many are fragrant. NewFlora (www.newflora.com) is the U.S. distributor for Kordes.
Oso Easy Paprika
I also had to have two of the other roses I had in Heath. Folksinger is a peachy hardy Buck rose, and Thomas Affleck is the amazing deep pink rose I grew near my entry. It had big blossoms that began in mid June and continued into November.
With all these new sustainable coming on the market there will be no excuse for any gardener to avoid roses because they are too fussy.
Sources: Antique Rose Emporium www.antiqueroseemporium.com; Chamblee’s Roses www.chambleeroses.com; Roses of Yesterday and Today www.rosesofyesterday.com
Between the Rows June 11, 2016
Peach Drift rose
With my first Peach Drift roses I am celebrating my first real Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day in the Greenfield, Massachusetts garden. Peach Drift is a fairly low growing, long blooming, disease resistant rose.
Oso Easy Paprika\
Oso Easy Paprika shares a small bed with Peach Drift. Paprika is a little outside my usual color palette, but when I saw it blooming at the nursery I could not resist.
Zaide, Kordes rose
I am so excited to be able to add Kordes roses like Zaide to my garden.
White Kordes rose
This white Kordes rose is either Lion’s Fairy Tale or Polar Express. I hope I can figure out which when the other white Kordes rose begins to bloom
Purple Rain Kordes rose
Purple Rain has many small blossoms on a sprawly bush.
Folksinger, Buck rose
I love the apricot shade of Folksinger, a Griffith Buck rose. Thomas Affleck put out one flush of bloom but I expect more as the season progresses.
Stella d”Oro daylily
Stella d’Oro, a daylily left by the previous owners of our house is the only perennial on the Hellstrip. But the Hellstrip will be blooming soon. Wait til July.
I’m so pleased with the way this mountain laurel has come through the year. It is such a modest and unassuming shade-loving shrub.
Irises are still bloom, as are the supermarket yellow primroses I planted. There are even a few blooms on the Japanese primroses, and the new elderberry shrubs. I have a couple of arrangements of annuals in large pots and bright red geraniums in pots on our front steps. Very welcoming, I hope. More plants will be bought this summer and I think we will have many more blooms.
Thank you Carol of May Dreams Gardens for hosting Bloom Day. To see what else is in bloom across our great land click here.
South Lawn May 22, 2015
The South Border did not exist on the day we closed on the house. But we had ideas.
South Border on June 3, 2015
On June 3 we planted three hydrangeas, Limelight, Angel’s Blush and Firelight, as well as two lilacs, deep purple Yankee Doodle and double white Beauty of Moscow. Shrubs were planted in the ground with the the addition of Martin’s compost.
Once shrubs were in the ground we built the lasagna beds around them with cardboard and compost so that we could plant perennials – and an annual or two.
Now, one year later, with additional plantings of roses, virburnams and various groundcovers like lady’s mantle, and sedums the view from Office Window 2 is quite different.
Eastern end of the South Border
The eastern end of the South Border includes the hydrangeas and lilac in the rear with roses in the front. Low growing Purple Rain begins on the left, then you can see the tiny white buds of a white rose (Lion’s Fairy Tale I thinks. Thomas Affleck pink follows then the apricot Folksinger and another white which is either Lion’s Fairy Tale or Polar Express, both of which are Kordes roses.
South Border 2
You can see the white rose from the previous photo, then The Fairy which is not yet blooming but loaded with buds and doing splendidly. To the far right is the wonderful Zaide, a lush Kordes pink.
South Border 3
This photo gives you a better view of Zaide, and Kockout Red ends this section of the South Border. There is only one other very small rose beyond the Knockout and we’ll have to wait for next year for her blooms. I hope you notice the tall mullein that Mother Nature planted for us at the very edge of the driveway. So far so good! The Main Garden behind the house is also doing well. Keep Watching.
Paul Redstone’s water gardens
The Forbes Library Garden Tour is this Saturday, an opportunity to see unique private gardens.
If you are lucky retirement from the everyday world of work is an opportunity to make happy changes, and possibly even make a dream come true. This opportunity has been beautifully and artfully used by Paul Redstone, and Jesse and Jack Martin. They both gave up country homes and properties and moved to ‘the city,’ Northampton, where they now live next to each other. They all love to garden, treasure their friendship, and have very different approaches to making a garden.
I spoke to Redstone while sitting on his deck listening to the falling water in his water garden. I could see cattails and water lilies, but he said the water garden was really all about the music of the moving water falling over the stone. His wife passed away ten years ago and when he moved to town about six years ago he thought it was time to make his dream of a musical water feature come true. With the encouragement of a friend he did some renovations on his new house so he could have room for a printmaking studio, and finally built the water garden he had longed for.
I asked if this was a house where he could age in place. He laughed. “I didn’t think of it at the time, but I guess it is. The kitchen is now more efficient and I have a bedroom on the ground floor. The water garden is sited where I can see it from the bedroom.”
He designed the stone water garden on a rise, with various sections that provide music, a home for three koi and occasional frogs and bogs for breathtaking lotuses. It is surrounded by irises and a delightful carpet of ground covers. While he needed help to build the stone infrastructure, he is completely responsible for all the plantings.
His main goal in the garden is to eliminate lawn. The sunny front yard has a variety of groundcovers including bearberry and cotoneaster. Gorgeous irises were beginning to bloom the day I visited. One of the stunning shrubs is a calycanthus with its wine-red blossoms.
The garden around the water garden holds a broad range of plants, raspberries and thornless blackberries from Nourse Farm, and plum trees, arborvitae, hollyhocks and wonderful native plants from Tripple Brook Nursery. He said he doesn’t make elaborate plans but “gardens according to my whims. If something doesn’t work out it is easy to send it off.”
Paul Redstone’s Calycanthus, or Carolina allspice
Jesse and Jack Martin
Jesse and Jack Martin live right next door. While they have very different styles, they spend a lot of time strolling through each others’ gardens and swapping notes.
Jack and Jesse Marti
Jesse and Jack left Beckett to look for a gentler climate that would make life a bit easier, but also provide more scope for their garden plans. In Northampton they have found a community rich in cultural opportunities, and a warmer climate.
Unlike Redstone, they like lawn and have a lush greensward in front of the house leading to a handsome shrub border that continues around the side of the house. Lilacs are pruned every three years or so, removing trunks that are more than a thumb width, keeping them vital and strongly blooming. A turn into the back garden is around a wisteria covered arbor they built themselves to provide a seating area in the shade.
A flowery border in front of the conifer privacy screen
They removed the 50 foot tall hemlocks that separated them from their backyard neighbor. “Those trees were so wide they took up half the yard,” Jesse said. Now there are slimmer Emerald Green and American arborvitae providing privacy and a background for the perennial border which also holds several birdhouses and a bird bath. The Martins welcome the birds and provide for their needs. “The cardinals and robins love the straw mulch. It is so much fun to watch them tossing the straw and searching for seeds.”
“We like the idea of textures – The upright blooms of the irises, and the fluffiness of the poppies.” Jesse said. The peonies were heavily budded. “We aim for a progression of bloom, but actually early summer has the most flowers.”
I was amazed by the large Harry Lauder Walking Stick. I have only seen this as a small shrub but it was beautiful as a small tree. Another particularly important small tree in the garden is the intensely fragrant witch hazel that blooms in February, right next to the hot tub. “
Redstone and the Martins make good use of a variety of irises.
As we strolled through the garden Jack and Jesse couldn’t help pulling a weed or two. They said they wandered through the garden every day, admiring and weeding. After the tour we sat in the shade of the screened porch. “The whole purpose of the garden is to have something beautiful to look at during that first cup of coffee, or in the afternoon. We often invite Paul over,” Jack said.
The Redstone and Martin Gardens are two of the eight unique and inspiring gardens on this 23rd self guided Forbes Library Garden Tour, on Saturday, June 11 from 10 am to 3 pm, rain or shine. Advance $15 tickets are available at Forbes Library, Baystate Perennial Center, Cooper’s Corner, Hadley Garden Center, North Country Landscaping and Garden Center and State Street Market. On the day of the Tour tickets are only available at the Forbes Library for $20. There will also be a raffle that for compost, a landscape consultation and garden supplies. All proceeds benefit the Friends of the Forbes Library, funding programs, events and projects.
Between the Rows June 4, 2016
Tovah Martin, Author of The New Terrarium
The Greenfield Garden Club brought Tovah Martin, author of The New Terrarium, and many other books, to town to not only talk about terrariums, but to hold a workshop. The site was the elegant Brandt House B&B, the weather was rainy, but the spirit was one of excitement and creativity.
Audience for terrarium talk at The Brandt House B&B
Many members of the Greenfield Garden Club, and other gardeners in the community filled all the Brandt House space to get some preliminary instruction about terrariums, and jolts of inspiration.
The Kestrel Shop in Northampton was on hand with some of the needed plants and supplies, but attendees brought a variety of glass containers for their creations.
Terrarium workshop attendees
It didn’t take long for workshop attendees to get to work.
Unique terrarium tools
One of the tricks of the trade is a cork on a skewer to make a soil tamper. Less awkward to fit in the container than fingers.
While we are still working on our house I can’t imagine a space for a terrarium, but after seeing all these inspiring terrariums, I did think of some friends who might like a terrarium even if they don’t like weeding and pruning outside.
Green River Cemetery, Greenfield, MA
Memorial Day was created as a day to remember those who died in the service of our country, beginning right after our Civil War. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, a founder of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union army veterans, declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30 by decorating soldiers’ graves with flowers. There is some thought that the day was chosen because so many flowers are in bloom around the country on that date.
Albert Karlson who worked at the Green River Cemetery beginning in 1959, had been superintendent for 15 years when he retired in 1993. He was one of a line of men who made sure there were flowers for graves of soldiers – and everyone else. He did this with the help of a crew and a large greenhouse, 75 feet long and 25 feet wide.
Karlson grew up working on family farms. As he grew older he also worked in his father’s market which sold the produce and poultry that was raised on the farm. Eventually he enrolled in the two year program at the Stockbridge School of Agriculture studying floriculture. In the summer between those two years he worked for a florist. His interest in growing flowers showed itself early.
However, after graduation he went to work for the Park and Shop supermarket. It was not until he met and married Virginia in Greenfield that the opportunity to return to flowers arrived. His wife was working for the tax collector and heard that the Green River Cemetery was looking for staff. He got a job there in 1959.
When I visited with Karlson he told me that the cemetery greenhouse was busy all year long. “We grew about 3000 geraniums, mostly red, and thousands of other bedding plants: coleus, ageratum, marigolds, begonias, all kinds of flowers including herbs, and trailing plants for containers at some of the graves,” he said.
“When those spring plants were cleared out of the greenhouse we started chrysanthemum cuttings that would be in bloom in the fall. They were used in the cemetery for bouquets, but we also sold them to some of the area florists.”
Karlson went on to say that they also planted flowers on the 150 or so graves that were listed for Perpetual Care. People would include a bequest in their wills, providing money to the cemetery to be used for planted flowers on their graves every year. He explained that over the decades that tradition has died out. They used the interest, but eventually even the principal was gone. When I visited the cemetery I could see that certain monuments were stamped on the back “Perpetual Care.”
Green River Cemetery Chapel
I thought maybe there was no work to do in the winter, but Karlson explained that the road to the Chapel had to be kept clear of snow. Not only was it used for services, a mausoleum had been built below where caskets could be kept during the winter until the ground thawed out and graves could be dug. The mausoleum is no longer used because now there is heavy equipment that can dig graves in every season.
Karlson also said there was plenty of paperwork. Careful records of the deeds to each plot and burials had to be kept.
When I visited the Green River Cemetery I looked for the site of the greenhouse which would have been behind the caretaker’s house, a building that is now used as offices for the Northeast Region and North Quabbin Child Advocacy Group. Karlson explained that the greenhouse was probably built at the turn of the 20th century and though it was maintained by painting and repairing the glass, the years had taken their toll. One winter, only a few years before he retired, there was a terrific blizzard with heavy snow and winds. The greenhouse collapsed and it was too expensive to rebuild. Nothing is left of the greenhouse. Nowadays, plants for the cemetery are purchased. It is Snow and Sons who mow the lawns and keep the grounds looking as neat and beautiful as was intended when it was opened in 1851.
Green River Cemetery is one of the early “rural’ cemeteries to be founded. The founders were inspired by the beautiful MountAuburnCemetery created in 1831 which was designed to offer consolation to the bereaved, but its park-like plantings recreated a pastoral beauty that was also intended to provide meditative space for others who might come to stroll under the majestic trees, and among shrubberies and flowers.
Jeff Hampton, current President of the Green RiverCemetery, told me that the couple of weeks before and after Memorial Day are the busiest days for the cemetery. Families bring bouquets blooming with memory, with love and gratitude to those who went before.
Albert Karlson is one of a long line of men who served the dead and the living with the flowers they grew and planted.
Those of us who might visit the cemetery to mourn or to meditate will receive solace, or inspiration and encouragement as we see time and lives spread out before us. Some monuments have been worn to near illegibility but there is the imposing monument for Governor William Barrett Washburn, and the graceful marble sculpture created by Daniel Chester French for the Russell family.
Green River Cemetery monument by Daniel Chester French
I do not have family or friends lying in the Green River Cemetery, but as I strolled beneath the trees among the graves I sensed the entwining lives of the community, affections shared and the silence of those memories.
Between the Rows May 28, 2016
View from the office on May 4, 2016
The view of the new garden from the office at the beginning of May shows a good recovery from April snow and frigid temperatures. You can see the nearly wood filled hugel at the back border.
Hugel wood from Hawley
A big May project was collection logs for the hugel at the west end of the garden. This load came one of the two Hawley friends who donated logs to the project. We are so lucky to have good Hawley friends – who also have logs to share.
Hugel almost filled on May 22, 2016
With a little help from our friends in Greenfield and Hawley we have just about all the logs we need in the hugel. Now we need soil!
May 29, 2016
Daughter Betsy and her man Mike, and Henry made pretty quick work of the 7 yards of soil/compost mix from Martin’s Farm. All of it was spread over the hugel logs in 2 hours! It will have to settle before we can plant in it.
Bridge of Flowers plant sale
Of course, I needed more plants for the lawn beds. I bought perennials and annuals at both the Bridge of Flowers plant sale and the Greenfield Garden Club Plant Sale. Beautiful plants, columbine, ferns, epimediums, geraniums, annual salvia, sedums, daylilies, and many many more, now all planted in the ground, or in container.
May 29, 2016
You can’t really see that there is bloom, but the Japanese primroses from a Rowe friend are finishing their bloom, and the lilacs in the South Border are also finishing. The irises and roses have buds and Oso Easy Paprika rose actually does have bloom. Still, even without bloom you can see there is substantial change in the new garden in the lovely month of May
Nameless tree peony
This year there were a lot of peonies, including a woodland peony, for sale at the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale. This is a testament to the health of the peonies on the Bridge and in our gardens. They thrive and eventually have to be divided.
In the olden days, peonies were cut back and divided in the fall then replanted into a sleepy autumn garden. Nurseries sold peony roots in the fall and gardeners spent the winter dreaming of those shoots poking up early in the spring.
Nowadays no one hesitates to divide peonies in the spring, and nurseries sell potted well budded peonies. Instead of dreaming of spring shoots, gardeners can plant their new peonies and wait a very short time for the bloom period to begin.
I can understand the desire to have two peony planting seasons. They are beautiful and glamorous, coming in a variety of colors including white, pink, red, and some less common shades of coral and yellow. In Heath I had a very unusual peony called Green Lotus that had raggedy white petals tinged with green around a golden center. It did not bloom for very long each season, but I just loved its unusual color and form.
Peonies do come in many types and forms. Most of us are familiar with herbaceous peonies, peonies that need to be cut back to the ground in the fall. Herbaceous peonies can be single, semi-double like Coral Charm, or double like Kansas. The fully double peony with hundreds of ruffly petals hiding all signs of stamens is probably what most of us think of when we hear the word peony. A kind of double double is the bomb form which has the double grouping of petals in the center set on a ring of guard petals.
There is also the Japanese or Imperial form which has a few petals surrounding a large central cluster of stamens that have been transformed into stamenoids looking like a dense center fringe, usually gold. Gold Standard is an example. The anemone form is very similar and is sometimes considered a variety of Japanese peony only with petaloids of the same color instead of staminoids in the center. Show Girl is a striking example.
Woodland peonies are a subset of the general herbaceous class. Woodland peonies are shorter and have finer foliage, blooming early in the season. They have a simple form, but they provide an extra wonder in the fall when the seed pod bursts open to reveal cobalt blue and scarlet seeds.
P. Japonica seed pod
Each peony will bloom for a couple of weeks, but there are early, mid- and late season varieties so you can enjoy peonies for six weeks. Many of them have notable fragrance.
I also grew two tree peonies. Guan Yin Mian was a lush shade of pink and she was named for the Goddess of Compassion. The other, also pink, lost its name in my record books, never to be revealed again. Tree peonies do not grow into tall trees, but into large sturdy shrubs. They do not get cut back in the fall. The woody infrastructure of a mature plant can hold dozens of large blossoms. These fragile looking peonies are actually extremely hardy and bloom before the herbaceous peonies.
Guan Yin Mian tree peony
There are cities in China where tree peonies were born that celebrate peony season with festivities. Closer to home is the CricketHillGarden in Thomaston, Connecticut which has its own Peony Festival from May 12 through June 21. The gardens are open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am – 5 pm. No admission is charged. You can go simply to admire the range of peony beauty, but I cannot imagine anyone resisting a purchase. Peonies, fruit trees and berry bushes will be on sale.
The newest variety of peonies are the Itoh peonies, also called intersectionals. Toichi Itoh, a Japanese nurseryman, was the first to cross the tree peony with the herbaceous peony. Now there are American hybrids which hold their blossoms high without supports. Although the stems are strong they do get cut down in the fall, returning bigger and more floriferous the following spring. Bartzella, a yummy yellow, was an early variety and became very popular, but there are others in shades of lavender, pink, coral and red.
Itoh peonies are mid-season to late bloomers. Like all peonies the foliage stays green and healthy all summer.
Peonies are one of the longest lived and most carefree plants in the perennial garden. They all need full sun, and good, well draining soil with a pH of 6.5 or 7. If you buy peony roots in the fall the herbaceous and Itoh peonies should be planted two inches deep. A deeper planting will not harm the plant, but it will not make blooms. If you have a non-blooming peony, dig it up and give it a shallower planting hole. That should take care of the problem.
Tree peonies do need to be planted more deeply. About five inches of soil should cover the root. Also, if you are planting tree peonies think carefully about the site. They need sun but also need to be protected from strong winds.
Peonies should be watered and mulched the first year, but that is all the special care they will need. After that, you and your children can enjoy them for decades.
Potted peonies can be found in local nurseries now, or you can wait and buy peony roots in the fall from mail order nurseries. Cricket Hill Gardens; Klehm’s Song Sparrow Nursery; and Peony’s Envy.
Between the Rows May 21, 2016