It’s the beginning of Fall and I already can’t help but think about Spring. In my 15 years living in cities (Washington DC and New York,) one of my favorites memories of Spring is walking around my neighborhood and in the distance spotting the amazing pops of fuscia and red and white and pink peonies in buckets outside of corner bodegas. Once I was closer, the fragrance was intoxicating, better than roses. Then I had to choose which ones to take home (because they were always pricey–2-3 stems for $15-$20 or so.) Would I take home the ones with buds that weren’t open yet or ones that were open and full, knowing they might not last too much longer? When I finally made my choice and brought them home, I cherished them. So cheerful. And just like that, they were gone from the bodegas–their season so sadly short.
One of the great benefits of living in the suburbs now and with a generous yard and floral beds, I’m able to plant my own peonies. (Have I mentioned that our new home has a huge raised fruit and vegetable garden? Well, it does. I’ve had outdoor plants before, mostly container gardens and few flower bulbs in the ground, but nothing nearly close to what I have now. Much much more on that later. For now we’ll focus on the flower beds in the back of the yard.) After doing some reading, peonies do best when planted in the Fall. This gives the plants the chance to take strong root and develop in dormancy. By Spring, they’ve had a head start over other plants just newly planted in Spring and are more likely to bloom on 2-3 stems the first season.
Before I started my research on peonies, I had no idea on the number of varieties out there. And the best part? They have the coolest, prettiest names. It’s like race horses and nail polish and wall colors. “Essie’s Ballet Slippers for my fingers and Wife Goes On for my toes please.” (so fun playing with nail polish colors) I’d like to think that I’m the kind of person that wouldn’t be swayed into making a buying decision based on a name, but hey, I’m a marketer too. Cora Louise, Sarah Bernhardt, Going Bananas, Many Happen Returns, and Eden’s Perfume. So many peony names, so many beauties. Ultimately, I chose Kansas, Coral Charm, Nick Shaylor, and Princess Margaret from Adelman Peony Gardens.
Peony plants ship mostly as “bareroot.” Bareroot basically means that the roots are dug up and all soil is removed. When you buy peony plants at a nursery, they may have 2-3 varieties max and the cost can be $40 and up. When you buy them bareroot online, they’re much cheaper and there are so many stunning varieties to choose from. Peonies regardless are very expensive to buy–some bareroot varieties I saw were $60 and up. Regardless of cost, they’re priceless as they can last 50+ years and have been known to outlive their owners.
To plant the peonies, the instructions said to dig a $100 hole–2 feet deep by 3 feet wide. The bareroot it at most 10 inches wide, but the plant needs a lot of room and loose soil to spread out its root structure. I didn’t go quite that deep and wide, I’d say I dug $50 holes. After starting to dig, I found a lot of clay. So I supplemented the soil with some Mushroom Compost and some Organic Bio-Tone Starter. I basically dug out the soil from the ground and mixed in the compost (50/50 soil to compost mix) and added a handful of the Bio-Tone at the bottom of the hole. After throwing in a few inches of that mix, I placed the bareroot peony on top, careful to make sure the buds pointed upwards towards the sky. The direction of the big brown root doesn’t really matter. The roots will find their way regardless. I then layered the soil/compost mix on top–covering the plant by a maximum of 2 inches.
After a quick watering and label made, I stepped away with pride at my 4 peony plants (spaced about 18-24 inches apart.) I’m so excited to see their beautiful blooms in a short 6 months or so!