Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Finely Foliaged Fernleaf

A few years back, I was fortunate to have a friend who offered to trade some starts of his treasured fernleaf peony, the species peony Paeonia tenuifolia, for something in my garden.  I had seen and lusted after these peonies in several catalogues, but each time had recoiled against the listed price, often at $50 for a single start.  In contrast, my friend presented me with an enormous clump that I divided immediately and planted as three plants in my own garden and I also gave two away to others.  All three of the ones I kept are expanding and growing in my garden, now three years after planting. Thank God for the beneficence of gardeners!

The fernleaf peony is a fairly short (1-2 feet tall) herbaceous peony that is by far, the earliest peony to bloom in my garden.  It is blooming today, as seen in the picture above, at a time of year when most of my other peony varieties have not formed buds and some are just barely breaking ground.  Paeonia tenuifolia has crimson flowers (to 3" across) with yellow stamens that rise above some of the most attractive and unusual foliage in the garden.  The foliage is deeply divided and lobed into needle-like, ferny segments, hence the tenuifolia name, which means "slender leaved."  Several varieties and cultivars are on the market, from the single-form of the species that I grow, to a double form known as Paeonia tenuifolia 'Rubra Flora Plena', to a beautiful pink double form not yet commercially available.  The species and associated cultivars seem to be popular peonies in rock gardens.

Paeonia tenuifolia has been known in Europe since at least the 1500's and was described by Linnaeus in 1759.  In reading about this peony, I was interested to see that most sources describe this peony as needing extra water during the year, one source even recommending continually-wet soil, while it seems to be doing well without any extra water in my own garden.  Paeonia tenuifolia is native to the Caucasus Mountains of Russia, as well as areas north of the Black Sea and westward into Romania and Serbia, an area with cold winters and hot, dry summers, so it is actually should be no surprise that it does well here in Kansas.  A description at the Heartland Peony Society website suggested that the usual culprit in this peony's demise is too much humidity, which causes it to succumb to "fungus," so I suspect the recommendation for extra-water is a myth handed down from writer to writer, none of whom actually have attempted themselves to grow the plant in a dry garden.  As a mentor used to tell me, "If I wrote the sky is green in a book chapter, soon the whole world would be repeating that the sky is green." 

I did learn from my reading that Paeonia tenuifolia is supposed to be well-scented, and I'm ashamed to admit that I've never checked it for scent before.  However, after sniffing over my own peony last evening, I can confirm that it has a pleasant light scent, but I wouldn't consider it the assault to my nose that many herbaceous peonies seem to be.

1 comment:

  1. I'm always astounded by the prices nurseries charge for peonies! The foliage on this one is especially lovely...I'm such a sucker for finely dissected foliage.


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