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An optimistic gardener is one who believes that whatever goes down must come up.

~ Leslie Hall ~

From the GTG Garden and Greenhouse

I am excited about the plants we are growing for spring 2014. There is a new short Shasta Daisy variety, an elephants ear with crinkled leaves, several canna varieties, lots of brugmansia and peonies! From yellow Bartzella, the queen of the intersectionals, to Immaculee, the whitest white of garden peonies, the greenhouse is stuffed about as much as i was after Thanksgiving dinner! I hope you enjoy our December article - if you aren't growing a peony yet, you might want to give them a try.

Merry Christmas, Belle

Green Thumbs Galore LLC

Peonies Past & Present

by Dava Stewart

What plant has a long, interesting history, is super easy to grow, has a giant, beautiful bloom with an amazing scent, and is available on the Green Thumbs Galore website? Peonies!

When I especially like a flower, then find out that it has an interesting story, it nudges me from liking to loving it. This month when Belle asked me to write about peonies, I started reading about the basics of peony care -- how much sun do they need, should the soil be amended, how are they propagated?

I found the answers to those questions, and will share them so that you have some helpful, useful, actionable information as a result of reading this newsletter, but since it’s cold outside and most of us are spending more time indoors than out, I’ll also share a story about how the peony got its name.

First, the useful stuff! There are three types of peonies: 1. tree peonies, 2. herbaceous peonies, and 3. intersectional peonies, sometimes called Itoh peonies, after the Japanese horticulturist who first successfully hybridized the tree and herbaceous types. Most casual gardeners grow either herbaceous or intersectional peonies, and all of the information here pertains to those two types.

Peonies prefer full to part sun and well drained soil. It may take a few years for a newly transplanted peony to reach its full glory, but once it does it will provide fabulous blooms and interesting foliage in your garden for years. Some sources say peonies live for 30-40 years, and others say they will live as long as 100 years. Either way, you can expect a veritable of enjoyment.

Many perennials, such as iris and hosta, require regular dividing in order to thrive. Peonies usually don’t NEED to be divided, but if you want more plants, or if your peonies aren’t doing as well as you’d like, you can divide them.

To successfully divide a peony, gently dig it up, and carefully remove the dirt from the roots. You can soak the roots with a hose or shake the dirt loose (carefully!). You need to be able to see the eyes. Each division should have between 3 and 5 eyes so that the plants will be lush and strong. Trim the fine, hair-like roots to prevent disease.

When planting, choose a site with plenty of sun, but keep in mind peonies can withstand a bit of shade. You can add some compost to the hole, or if you know your soil is in good shape, use Belle’s slit-planting method -- just make a slit in the ground with your shovel and cram the peony in and tamp the soil down. (This is my favorite planting method, ever. There is nothing easier.) One important tip is to not plant too deeply -- the eyes should be facing up, and should only be 2-3 inches deep for best results.

Last spring, I bought my first peony at the Green Thumbs Galore Semi Annual Driveway Sale. I was worried because it didn’t bloom, but then learned that peony blooms only last about two weeks and mine had finished blooming when I bought it. Although some people think, “What? Only two weeks!” I tend to think, “Oh, wow, a beautiful flower that will require me to slow down and enjoy the moment!”

Peonies are excellent as cut flowers, as well, so you can bring a bouquet inside and maximize your enjoyment. Many varieties are wonderfully fragrant. Also, once the blooms are gone, the dark green foliage provides an interesting background for annuals, then turns a bright gold in the fall. After the first freeze, cut the foliage back to the soil level to prevent disease.

So, with a peony you get a plant that is easy to care for, produces stunning flowers, lasts a lifetime, and provides interesting background foliage. Besides all of that, as promised, there’s a good story connected to peonies, too!

First, peonies are one of the oldest cultivated flowers in the world. They have been grown in China for at least 2,500 years, and are still used in traditional Chinese medicine. They have been called the King of Flowers, the Prime Minister of Flowers, and the flower of riches and honor.

There are multiple accounts in Greek mythology of how the peony came to be. One maintains that Asclepius was the god of healing and Paeon was his student. Asclepius became jealous of Paeon (as Greek gods were wont to do) and in order to save Paeon from Asclepius’ wrath, Zeus turned him into the peony flower.

Another says that Paeonia was a very shy wood-nymph who was gathering buttercups when Apollo happened by and was so entranced he seduced her on the spot (again, as Greek gods were wont to do). Venus caught the couple and turned Paeonia into a peony.

There are other accounts as well, but the fact that peonies have been inspiring stories for so long tells you much about their beauty, I am looking forward to years of enjoyment from mine.


December in the Greenhouse growing for Spring 2014:

Brugmansia Papa's Girls :
Leucanthemum Real Glory
Colocasia Puckered Up