This time of year I know people get all goo-goo gah-gah for roses as they begin to come into bloom and I get it. In our new neighborhood my morning commute is now a fabulous rose parade as I walk by the carefully tended little front yards between here and the R train stop. Roses are some of the most noted flowering shrubs and vines in the world, no doubt, and they too deserve a gallery of their own these days. But overall I tend to find that people gravitate towards the same known plants so I being the horticultural snob like to instead tout the other guys, those genus and species that in my opinion have as much character and merit in the garden. Peonies belong to the genus Paeonia, a group of 30-40 species depending on the reference sited, members of their own plant family, the Paeoniaceae. (yeah, say that five times fast!) They are native throughout the northern hemisphere from here over as far as Asia.
Most peonies that you see in northeast gardens are herbaceous, meaning their stems and branching are all softer green tissue. The other option are what we call tree peonies, and as you might guess their base hardens to be much more woody over time. In both cases these plants are prized for their spectacular flowers which can range in size from your fist to your favorite dinner plate and they are extremely long lived. They hate being transplanted so you want to make sure the placement is spot-on from the start. But if you place it in the right spot in your garden you can enjoy it for years knowing your children will get to enjoy it through their gardening days as well. Good sun, maybe a little shade thrown in, good organic rich soil, a grow-through structure to help keep them upright through our windy springs and you are psyched. There are a million hybrid cultivars out in the trade so you'll have your work cut out for you, but the shopping is fun.
The big bods that form in mid-May are perched atop the fresh green of the springtime garden and the promise and potential is so exciting. Ants you will find will make themselves part of the action and there is no cause for alarm. People have different theories but the bottom line is that the ants are attracted to the sweet nectar of the emerging buds and are neither detrimental or crucial for the forming flower. Let them do their thing, enjoy your flowers, everyone wins.
This is the unfurling of one great cultivar out there, 'Festiva Maxima'.
And this fabulous pink guy I don't know the name of but hopefully I can find out from the archives. All these shots by the way are from the perennial beds in the Conservatory Garden, Central Park.
If I remember correctly this one is 'Krinkled White'. Really fabulous, each one.