by Adam Pasco

If I followed the adage that every plant in my garden had to earn its place then I'm not convinced peonies are worth growing.

Peony flowerIf I followed the adage that every plant in my garden had to earn its place then I'm not convinced peonies are worth growing. When it comes to their contribution to the display I'd have to say it's... brief.

Of course, anticipation is a virtue every gardener needs, but as soon as those big, bold blooms open it's bound to rain and shatter the petals. In the blink of an eye it's all over and I've got to wait another year for them to flower again.

My problem is that I love plants, and have to admit to loving peonies. They have always been part of my gardening life. Our family garden in Guildford was on a slope near the Downs, on very thin free-draining soil over chalk. Peonies loved it; they didn't demand a thing from us and flourished in return, forming thickets covered with flower.

I actually have a tenuous family connection to Kelways, a nursery in the West Country that specialises in peonies. My late-uncle was Ian Kelway, who married my Mum's sister Barbara. Ian didnâ??t move into the nursery business, but I remember pouring over old Kelways catalogues, crammed with colour plates of pristine fields with row upon row of pink, purple, white and red peonies. How I would love to have seen them. People must have travelled miles for a peony pilgrimage every May.

However, I am usually disappointed that, considering the space they take up, my peonies put on an all-too-fleeting display. Yes, you'll see them at the Chelsea Flower Show - it's the perfect time for them after all - but within a week (well a fortnight at most) they'll be over. Don't give me all that talk about relishing the moment, and isn't it lovely enjoying perfection if only for a few days.

Am I being too hard on the gorgeous, irresistible, flamboyant peony?

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Talkback: Peonies
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Gardeners' World Web User 01/01/2007 at 00:00

Ah! give them a little more praise. They are beautiful and some are very fragrant, they don't need a lot of care and attention. Just plant them in a spot that's a little dull and you'll be glad of their colour and perfume when you're feeling a little low! Forget the fact they don't bloom for long when they do just make the most of looking at their beauty.

Gardeners' World Web User 01/01/2007 at 00:00

I love my peonies but this year something has eaten them i am so disappointed then you wonder if its worth it. Still there is always next year

Gardeners' World Web User 19/05/2008 at 19:12

No you're not,Ive loved them from childhood and had one of my own back then.I have two at the moment planted in the boarder last year they got battered and half drown all the growing season I had canes and ties but still the weather got them when they flowered.My soils not good its heavy clay, I think let someone else have the problems and I will go along and admire them,there's easier things for that space in the border with longer displays of interest because even the foliage doesn't last.

Gardeners' World Web User 21/05/2008 at 11:56

I love my ponies and make the most of them for the short time they are here but I would like to know why this year the flower heads are covered in ants

Gardeners' World Web User 21/05/2008 at 17:50

Peonies are gorgeous, but it takes some 5 years before they flower! But once they start flowering, they will do so every year, even in heavy clay as my garden has. Even my peony trees flower. The first one after 5 years, the second after 7, the third had its button frozen of and the fourth disappeared. They do seem to like bad weather. In all the years I only had the luck to see them flowering for more than a week (in 2003). For the moment, they are waiting to open their flowers.... when it will start raining again. PS. The foliage stays until september in my garden...

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