Picture perfect peonies help paint the prairie landscape

For decades, large beds and individual clumps of peonies have formed the focal points of rural landscapes.

Many old country cemeteries still contain marvelous heritage peonies. Peonies are long-lived, hardy perennials that survive for decades, even in abandoned gardens, and require little maintenance.

Unlike most other perennials, peonies survive for years without having to be divided, so if you are planting them, choose the spot carefully because they are likely to remain there for years.

Peonies grow upright and have attractive foliage. The compound leaves last well into September and develop lovely maroon shading during late fall.

The blooms are heavy and require support. I place five sturdy two-by-two stakes around each stem, positioned far enough into the bush so that the foliage camouflages the stakes.

I then encircle each plant with sturdy twine and fasten the cord to each stake. I extend a few lengths of cord across the middle of the plant to add extra support for the heavy blooms. This prevents the blooms from draping over the perimeter cord and having all the flowers crowded around the outside of the plant.

Peony blooms come in several colours, the most common being deep red/carmine, pink, and white. Some varieties have ivory coloured blooms and a few of the newer Japanese peonies sport yellow flowers. Bright yellow stamens are evident in most single peony blooms.

Peonies are undemanding plants, but perform best in deeply dug, rich soil. They do require good drainage.

They also require lots of space and bloom best in full sun.

Peonies are substantial enough to use individually as specimen plants. They can act as anchors in mixed borders, and a row of peonies makes a substantial low hedge to separate garden rooms. In each location, these plants become focal points while in bloom.

By using fern-leaf peonies and Japanese peonies, gardeners can extend the peony bloom period. Fern-leaf peonies are the first to bloom and are usually in full bloom by late May when the tulips and irises are also in bloom.

Many Japanese peonies have single flowers and bloom a few weeks before the common peonies. Their single blooms are not as heavy as those of the common peony, so they require no support.

Some avid gardeners who like a challenge also have tree peonies, which are spectacular. They are not fully hardy in zones 2 and 3 and must be planted in a sheltered location and given winter protection.

The peony is an easy-care perennial that will put on a spectacular show each year in any landscape. Gradually, over the years, a peony added to a landscape will become an enduring old friend in your garden.

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