They’re great for the cut­ting gar­den, says Anne

Amateur Gardening - - This Week In Gardening -

WHEN picked and sold at the ‘marsh­mal­low’ stage, pe­ony flow­ers are at their most al­lur­ing as the tight buds soften and split to re­veal the petal colour in­side. These are among the most ro­man­tic of cut flow­ers and are pop­u­lar for wed­dings, con­jur­ing up an English gar­den idyll of early sum­mer. Buy­ing a bunch or two when they are in sea­son won’t break the bank, but why not de­sign a cut­ting border in­clud­ing pe­onies, so you can gather your own?

Now’s the time to look around for a tired border and make space for some­thing colour­ful, fun and pro­duc­tive. Other flow­ers for cut­ting could in­clude sweet peas, lily of the val­ley, ‘Café au Lait’ dahlias and phlox. Clear, prune, weed and con­di­tion soil with well-rot­ted com­post and the area will be ready for plant­ing in spring. Size is not an is­sue, but while flow­ers for cut­ting will grow in con­tain­ers, pe­onies prefer the open ground.

Herbaceous pe­onies are a good in­vest­ment as they can live for more than 100 years, and their blooms, open­ing from May to June, have a vase-life po­ten­tially twice that of roses. Growth dies back to a tuber­ous root­stock in win­ter and emerges again in spring, the new stems ini­tially a glow­ing red. Plants reach around 3ft (1m) tall and later, pro­duce good au­tumn tints.

For cut­ting, choose gen­er­ous, long­stemmed cul­ti­vars and set the plants at least 3-4ft (1-1.2m) apart. You can’t go wrong with the fra­grant, dou­ble pink ‘Sarah Bern­hardt’, which is the dar­ling of the cut-flower in­dus­try, but you might want to widen the range. Al­low plants to set­tle and grow for three years be­fore tak­ing more than the odd stem, and re­mem­ber to leave at least three lower leaves be­hind for the plant.

To pre­vent flower stems from droop­ing, push herbaceous plant sup­ports in early, so the pe­onies can grow through them.

My pe­ony plants have al­most died back for win­ter, but I check them to make sure leaves and mulch are not piled over the crowns Dou­ble pink ‘Sarah Bern­hardt’ (Paeo­nia lac­t­i­flora) is the dar­ling of the cut-flower in­dus­try Gather pe­onies at the marsh­mal­low bud stage or slightly more open dur­ing the cool of early morn­ing or evening. Place straight into a bucket of wa­ter and trim the ends un­der wa­ter.

A tight pe­ony bud start­ing to soften and split

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