Peonies: Beautiful Varieties for Home and Garden

If you’re already lamenting the end of peony season – or if you’re telling yourself that this fall you really are going to add a couple of extra-special ones to your garden – here’s a book you may find both comforting and inspiring.

As I wrote in March about its companion volume, Dahlias, it’s “a gorgeous book, filled to overflowing with spectacular, full-page images that are sure to get a gardener’s heart pounding.” These include close-ups of the 53 featured varieties as well as shots of peonies blooming en masse in the growers’ fields or artfully combined into exquisite bouquets. Photographer Georgianna Lane is a master at capturing the inner glow and subtle shadings of peonies which makes them spring to life on the page. (The sumptuous two-page photo below is of ‘Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt’.)

Although Jane Eastoe’s text is rich in historical information, mostly about the diverse breeders who created these well-loved flowers, there are also puzzling errors. For example, Eastoe says that ‘Miss America’ is “one of the easiest varieties to propagate by seed,” even though peony cultivars virtually never come true from seed, and she describes ‘Karl Rosenfield’ as a peony that should spring to mind whenever someone says “think pink,” even though ‘Karl Rosenfield’ is virtually always described as red.

Ah, but those magnificent photographs! Although Peonies may not be a perfect book, I think most peony-lovers would agree that it’s well worth the $16.82 it costs at Amazon.


Garden Gate’s Top Picks –
Summer-Blooming Heirloom Bulbs

While leafing through the August issue of Garden Gate magazine I was happily surprised to see this full-page photo of my favorite small-flowered glad, ‘Starface’. It’s one of seven summer-blooming classics featured in “Top Picks: Heirloom Summer Bulbs.”

“You know a plant is well-loved, timeless, and a good addition to any garden,” writes author Chloe Deike, “when it has been zealously passed on and preserved from generation to generation.” And summer-blooming bulbs are great, she adds, for their “vivid presence, splash of color, and sudden appearance when other plants are starting to whimper and fade.”

Deike describes ‘Starface’ as a “dainty little beauty” whose “ornately patterned petals” have been “stopping gardeners in their tracks since 1960.” Other summer bulbs she praises include:

‘Star of the East’ crocosmia – With its “stouter stems” and “much larger flowers,” this 107-year-old crocosmia “won all kinds of garden awards when it was introduced” and “still has reason to be the star of your garden today.”

‘African Queen’ lily – “Voluminous and voluptuous, this apricot-colored beauty from 1958 sings out like a Broadway diva.”

red spider lily – With its “long, ‘spider-leg’ stamens that curve upward from a cluster of star-shaped flowers,” this dramatic perennial “definitely makes a tropical statement in the late summer garden.”

milk and wine crinum – A “classic pass-along plant in Southern gardens,” milk-and-wine lily “grows happily and blooms off and on throughout the summer without much fuss,” even when it’s grown in pots in zones where it’s not hardy.

‘Café au Lait’ dahlia – Like ‘Starface’, this 1967 beauty also rates a full-page photo in Deike’s article. Its “enormous plush blooms” and “creamy, champagne tone,” she says, make it “one of the trendiest flowers for brides” and a “wonderfully celebratory cut flower.”

More than just pretty faces, “heirloom plants are rooted in story,” Deike writes, “embellished by a history that connects you to the past and spurs you toward the future.” And since so many are disappearing from mainstream sources, “growing heirlooms can make you an important link in the chain that keeps these plants thriving.”

You can join that happy chain by adding any of these treasures to your garden. ‘African Queen’ and red spider lily are available now for delivery this fall, and the other four will be available again soon for delivery next spring. For an email alert then, simply click the link in each bulb’s description.


The Princess and the Peony

If you’re still wondering what to send the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to celebrate the birth of baby Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, you might consider a big bouquet of peonies.

In case you missed it, peonies were featured prominently in the royal wedding last May. Meghan Markle has been a flower-lover since childhood – so much so that her mother’s nickname for her was Flower – and according to the London Daily Mail, “peonies are Markle’s favorite flower.”

“After she started dating Prince Harry,” the Mail reported, “she posted Instagram photos of a stunning bouquet of pink and white peonies [pictured here], captioning it: ‘Swooning over these. #peonies #spoiledrotten’.” Earlier she’d also posted “I bought these peonies for myself yesterday because they make me so endlessly happy. Do something sweet for yourself today too. #treatyourself #simplepleasures #favoriteflowers.”

Will peonies make you “endlessly happy”? We can’t guarantee that, but they are easy to grow, incredibly long-lived, and gorgeous. So why not “do something sweet for yourself today” and order a couple for planting this fall!