Backyard Gardener, By Patti Sharpe
Maybe peonies and nasturtiums deserve a second chance
© Patti Sharpe photo
Peonies bring unequalled beauty to the early summer garden.
For years I’ve said peonies and nasturtiums were the only flowers I didn't like and wouldn't grow in my garden.
My dislike of peonies originated with the double row of white peonies that bordered a path to my grandmother's veranda. In my memory, they were always messy, flopping out on to the lawn, beaten down by rain and full of ants. I can't really provide a good reason for not liking nasturtiums.
A few peonies existed at the first home we owned, but it was a rather run down old farmhouse and the peonies were equally run down. Without a doubt they had been there for decades and I'm not certain if they ever bloomed. They had been planted in the middle of the lawn and I eventually ran them over with the lawn mower.
We moved and the next house had no gardens to speak of and certainly no peonies.
Last summer's move brought me home to the house I had grown up in and what did I find in one of the gardens — peonies, not one but three. Last summer we were busy getting settled in and I chose to overlook the peonies for the time being.
Of course, this spring the peonies returned and I decided I was owed an explanation for them being there. My father explained that one peony, deep pink in colour, had been on the property when he bought it in 1967. He never throws anything out, so the peony is still here. He assured me it was an extremely sturdy, thick-stemmed plant that never flopped regardless of weather conditions.
Amazingly enough, the other two peonies had come from those rows that once grew in front of my grandmother's house, those same messy, ant-filled flowers of my childhood. I thought about digging them all out and including them in our garden club's plant sale, but then decided they deserved a second chance.
I did a bit of research and learned that peonies dislike being relocated so decided they would remain where they were. They were clearly happy in that location and receiving ample sunlight. The material I read also suggested that if supports were put in place early in the growing season the stems wouldn’t flop when they became heavy with blossoms. This seemed like good advice, so I put some old tomato cages in place. Further reading suggested tomato cages were far from ideal, but I wasn't about to remove them.
It would seem peonies also like a bit of all-purpose fertiliser in spring and fall. I was already too late for their first feeding, but I will feed them in the fall.
This past Sunday, a blossom opened on the pink peony. It's beautiful, it really is. I picked it and brought it inside to admire. Yesterday, the white peonies began to bloom and they’re nothing like what I remembered. They, too, are stunning and standing straight as an arrow — could it be those tomato cages?
How could I have failed to appreciate peonies for so long? These three plants are at least 50 years old each and still blooming beautifully — what else is there to say. I intend to pick a huge pink and white bouquet to bring in before Saturday's storm. And I might even acquire a new peony in a lighter shade of pink to add to my small collection. I'm also rethinking the nasturtiums. Maybe they deserve a second chance as well.
Patti Sharpe is a long-time resident of Great Village and actively involved in various organizations within her community. Send your news to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.