This year, I wonder, which of my peonies will put forth unexpected and extra effort and serve to delight me? There always seems to be one special player, sometimes anticipated, sometimes almost forgotten, who will make this a memorable peony spring. No matter how harsh the Winter has been, no matter how cold the Spring, how dry the Fall, or how destructive the dogs, one of them, I trust, will come shining through. Which will it be in 2011?
Will it be 'Buckeye Belle', purchased just last year and planted in full, deep dark red flower? 'Buckeye Belle' is an old peony, introduced by Mains in 1956, but it recently found new life as the 2011 Peony of the Year, the 2010 Gold Medal Winner, and 2009 American Peony Society Award of Landscape Merit Winner. I have high hopes for this variety and placed it in the front tip of my peony bed.
Or will 'Immaculee' get the nod this year for best peony of my garden? This white anemone bred by Van der Valk in 1953 has the most consistently perfect and delicate blossums of any peony I grow. Closeups of the center of this flower are like the surface of another world.
I was extremely lucky several years ago, to have a friend who gave me starts of the very early-blooming species, 'Paeonia tenuifolia'. First to bloom, first to disappear for the year, this bright red peony can be a real showstopper when a large clump gets established. And the tiny fern-like foliage is always perfect!
Recent variety 'Pink Spritzer' is always good for a striking new bloom and probably the most asked about peony that I grow. I obtained it about 2 years ago directly from the hybridizer, Roy Klehm, after hearing a lecture he gave at the National Arboretum. My weakness for stripes got the better of me.
The old standbys like 'Festiva Maxima' can usually be counted on to provide a good show. Heirloom P. lactiflora variety 'Festiva Maxima' is a French variety introduced in 1851 and if I were betting, I'd put money on this being the most widely grown herbaceous peony across the planet. I had a little trouble starting mine, either from the purchase of small roots or a little weakness in the variety, but I finally succeeded. I didn't admit my troubles, though, to my father, who has a specimen that was probably planted in the late 1940's and receives no care except a yearly mowing.
'Bowl of Beauty'
And, of course, the Japanese anemone named 'Bowl of Beauty' can usually be counted on for a beautiful show. I've grown this peony for about 8 years and this one always draws a few extra glances from visitors. The great contrast of 'Bowl of Beauty' between the ivory center and rich pink, cupped outer guard petals draws the eye.
My best hope however, for an exciting show this year is from a peony I just planted last year. Browsing a nursery in May last year, I came across 'Prairie Moon', a creamy white peony with yellow centers that has enormous blooms that vary from single forms to almost double in some years. Even so, I thought that the cost of a potted clump was a bit expensive to purchase the first time I saw it, but it kept wearing at my conscience all summer, and when it didn't go on sale, I purchased it in the Fall. I couldn't resist either the prairie reference of the name, nor the fact that this peony was introduced by Fay in 1959, which happens to be the year of my birth. I don't have pictures for you yet, but this is a peony that I hope will light up that area of the garden from a long distance away for years to come.