Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Floral Turkeys

Peony 'Shirley Temple'
As filler, my local newspaper this week picked up an article on peonies written by Adrian Higgins from The Washington Post, originally titled "Best Peonies for the D.C. area".  It was, of course, retitled here in Manhattan, Kansas since the editors knew I wouldn't care which peony is best for D.C.  Higgins started out his discussion of peony gardening and new peony varieties with the most delightful statements:  "Before any of us were born, plant breeders looked at the Chinese peony and decided that if a variety had many petals, its offspring would look much better with far more....Gardener's describe these gluttonous flowers as fully double.  They're the floral equivalent of turkeys so meaty they can't fly."



I had to chuckle, because truer words were never written.  "Floral equivalent of turkeys so meaty they can't fly," Ha, Ha, Hah.  Mr. Higgins was referring at that point to the peony varieties that we all know, love, and think of as "real" peonies; the ubiquitous 'Sarah Bernhardt', 'Festiva Maxima', 'Felix Crousse', and 'Karl Rosenfield' that seem to be the major offerings at the big box stores and in those little bags of eyed-roots stored in wood shavings near the checkout counters.  It was a rant about how the large very, very double flowers of these peonies take forever to open and stand on such weak stems that they topple over with the first decent rain.  Higgins went on to say that "Gardeners who try to fix a rain-splayed peony bush may as well try to repackage a newly unwrapped dress shirt," provoking yet another giggle from me.  Mr. Higgins then introduces the unknowing reader to Tree peonies and Intersectional peonies and I have no arguments with his comments about the values of either of those advancements in breeding.

But, the main peony season is beginning here in Manhattan, and my first floral turkey, Paeonia lactiflora 'Shirley Temple,' has opened as you can see from the delicious picture above and she was followed quickly by 'Festiva Maxima'.   'Shirley Temple', introduced in 1948, often has a little more blush to the petals, but she's almost entirely creamy in this cold Spring. 'Festiva Maxima', of course, is an ancient and classic peony known to every gardener who aspires to grow peonies.  In deference to Mr. Higgins, I enjoy the easy maintenance and large blossoms and fragrance of  both these varieties and all their cousins in my garden.  I control their floppiness with peony supports placed early during growth and by planting them close enough together that the inner peonies don't have room to flop.  Yes, I have some newer single peonies and one Intersectional peony that seems to be doing well, and a Tree peony that just survived the Kansas winds for the first winter.  But I'll never stop loving or growing the turkeys.

I wasn't aware of Adrian Higgins before, since the "Post" isn't a common newspaper for viewing in Kansas, but after looking over a few of his articles, I'm going to be reading more.  Several of the articles I've already browsed contain just the right amount of cynical sarcasm to match the late Henry Mitchell, one of my favorite garden writers.  As an example, an article on Sarah Palin's fence was just perfect, and another gem, comparing the modern rose to "a matinee idol with too many demands and chemical dependencies" was just the ticket to tickle my fancy. Catching up on his many articles, though, is going to cut into my blogging for awhile.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely peony! Ours are not yet in bloom; however, the tree peonies are just now in full regale. Colder rainy weeks have delayed much in the way of our blossoms, but today's sunny day should change all of that

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