RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2022 – A Sneak Peek

The dress code at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show these days might feel a little casual for some – more jeans and t-shirts, less royal frocks and hats.

But there is still plenty of glamour to be enjoyed! Wafting around surrounded by blooms with a glass of Pimm’s or bubbly in hand sounds pretty glamorous to me! No matter how you’re dressed.

Or even undressed...

Remember our nude peony-ed model at the 2019 Chelsea Flower Show (pictured right)? We had such fun.

This year we are excited to be back in full bloom and having a ball exhibiting at the Floral Marquee at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2022.

 

What We've Been Up To

With so many colours, shapes, scents and varieties to choose from, we can say that there certainly is a peony to suit every garden style and choice. Their delicate but blousy blooms enchant visitors to the show year after year and we want this year to be the most memorable peony exhibit yet.

It has been nearly two years since we have displayed peonies in their full glory at the RHS Chelsea so we are delighted to be back and full force, bringing back some fun after the difficult two years of the pandemic.

Our exhibit has been in the making for the last 18 months with a photoshoot taking place on the nursery last Spring.

As the largest exhibit we have ever undertaken, our team is hard at work growing over one thousand peonies for the display.

Send us all your growing vibes please!

 

What Will You See?

We are creating an experience where you'll find yourself immersed in the wondrous world of peonies and falling in love with them as much as we have, appreciating all of their unique and beautiful qualities.

We hope this will stoke your desire for having your own peonies growing in your garden, even if you have never grown them before.

In our dreamy display of peonies you will be able to see yourself having fun, like you did as a kid – playing in a whimsical forest surrounded by magical flowers.

The display will feature a large backdrop image from our ethereal photoshoot. At the centre of the exhibit will be a peony-covered swing, courtesy of Sitting Spiritually, allowing you to imagine yourself enjoying the tranquility of our ‘midsummer nights dream’, experiencing the serenity that gardens can provide while feeling more connected to nature. A beautifully sculpted Fairy by Robert James and all trees provided by Valley Plants. The intoxicating fragrance of the peonies will transport you to another world, allowing you to experience the wonder and versatility of peonies.

To really get the full experience you'll want to keep an eye out for our Photocall at the show – an opportunity for you to snap some pics of a beautiful Fairy Queen in our enchanted peony forest doing what fairy queens do.

Which is?

You'll have to come and see for yourself!

And that is just the tip of the petal of what’s in store for you at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show this year.

So come and see us! We look forward to seeing you there.

If you haven’t got your tickets yet, you better grab ‘em here...

RHS Chelsea Flower Show

in the buff in 2019...

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2022

Cut Flower Peonies – Grown at Home

Why grow your own peony cutting garden?

Isn’t it easier to just order a bunch of blooms whenever you need one? Arranged perfectly and ready to go?

Probably.

But we think it’s more fun to grow your own, as well as these other compelling reasons:

  • You’ll have access to a wider variety of peonies.
  • You can choose the peonies you especially like and get the look you want.
  • You’ll learn more about your garden and your peonies in the process.
  • You’ll have a regular supply of peonies in season which can be more affordable in the long run.

 

Convinced?

Here’s how to get started on growing your own peonies.

Which Peonies are Best

Blooms from most herbaceous cultivars perform well in both the vase and garden.

These are some of the best peonies for cutting (some pictured right):

 

If your peonies are young (less than 3 years old) it’s unlikely you will be seeing flowers just yet.

Peonies mature relatively slowly and they will need time to establish well to be sturdy enough for flower picking.

However, they are worth the wait. Being perennials, peonies are a great choice for a cutting garden as they will come back every year to knock your gardening gloves off with their beautiful blooms.

When Planting

In cooler climates, peonies can be planted in either spring or autumn so you could get started now. Here’s how:

  • Plant in a sunny spot in well-draining soil with less frequent, longer watering to encourage deeper, stronger rooting.
  • Don’t plant them too deeply. The eyes should be no more than 2.5-5cm below the surface.
  • Make sure there is enough space between plants – at least 60cm – as peonies benefit from good air circulation. This also makes them easier to pick.
  • Keep the area weed-free so your peonies aren’t competing for nutrients.
  • Provide staking/supports if needed.
  • Include peonies of different bloom times in the same bed to avoid empty patches

 

When Picking

It’s more cutting than picking you’ll be doing as it’s best to use secateurs rather than the hand to get a good clean edge so they can draw the water up well.

The best time of day to pick/cut them is on a cool day or in the morning.

You’ll want to:

  • Make sure your secateurs or scissors are really sharp.
  • Cut peonies when the bud is quite soft but not yet opened. A gentle pinch between your forefinger and thumb should reveal that the bud is as soft as a marshmallow.
  • Pick them with a bucket of water in hand and put the stems straight in (the ends start to seal over as soon as they’re picked so if you put them straight in the water they will drink up the water more readily than later).

 

When in the Vase

If picked at the marshmallow stage, within a day or two the flowers will have opened and you should have beautiful peonies in a vase for at least a week.

Make sure to:

  • Take off the leaves that will be under the water and put a little Milton in the water. This will stop the fungal moulds from growing and prolong the life of your cut peonies.
  • Every few days, trim the stems and change the water to keep them fresh.

Preparing Peonies for Spring

Even though it’s still chilly we’re excitedly waiting for spring to begin!

If you’re also getting into spring mode, now can be a good time to start thinking about the ways you can care for your post-winter peonies.

We are already seeing some peony shoots with the official first day of Spring on 20 March. But some peonies will only start springing up a bit later when the weather really starts warming up.

It can be quite a thrill to move the mulch and remains of winter aside and spot those first few bright pink peony shoots!

Spring Planting

If you didn’t manage to get your peonies in the ground in early autumn, that’s ok. Early spring, when the ground starts getting cosier again, is a good time to plant them too.

Remember to:

  • Plant in full sun or part shade in a sheltered position
  • Make sure the soil is free draining (no matter what type of soil you have)
  • Plant herbaceous peonies with the crown (top of the root) no more than 5cm below the ground
  • Plant grafted peonies with the graft union about 10-15cm below the ground
  • Steer clear of burying the crown when mulching
  • Mix some fertiliser such as our Spring Fertiliser with the compost when planting
  • Keep pets or young children away from your peonies at this time. The young shoots are delicate and easily broken which can lead to unwanted pests and disease

 

Spring Care and Cleaning 

  • Clear the mulch away – it’s done its job protecting your peonies from the worst of the winter so it can be cleared away as the weather gets warmer
  • They need as much sun as they can get, so don’t worry that it might be a shock after a long hibernation. Peonies love basking in the sunlight
  • Weeding around your peonies when spring comes is also important as peonies don’t compete well with weeds. Hand weeding is best and avoid using any herbicides near peony crowns or roots
  • Support your peony - If you have a peony that needs support now is the time to put your plant supports up before your peonies grow any further and you could damage any buds while putting them around you plant.

 

Spring Moving and Dividing

You can move or divide your peonies whenever they are dormant. The absolute best time is autumn while the soil is still warm but this can also be done in early spring.

However, working the soil can be difficult in early spring because of residual winter cold hanging about. So although you can divide them in spring, we recommend rather waiting until October.

But if you are going to divide in early spring, just be sure to do it before any leaves are starting to develop.

Here’s some tips:

  • Being careful not to damage any ‘eyes’ or buds that are developing at or just below surface level, dig up as big a clump as possible
  • You can divide your peony with either a sharp spade or using a pruning knife (depending on the size of the plant)
  • Ensure that each piece of root that you divide has at least 3-5 ‘eyes’ or buds
  • Whether you are moving or dividing your peony, plant it as soon as possible after lifting it to minimise disruption to the root system; ideally plant it the same day

 

And that is that!

We are sure these things will increase your enjoyment of your garden.

Winter Gardening – What to do in January

It’s the new year!

And it’s the middle of winter!

It’s tough to feel excited about that when it’s frosty and wet outside. You look over at your garden and think there’s not much going on out there.

But the grey winteriness of January is actually a fine time to prepare for a busy spring and summer.

Here’s some suggestions.

In general

  • Keep the birds going. Winter can be hard for them as their water sources freeze and food is more scarce so keep those feeders full and leave some of the garden a little untidy (read: wild) so they and other creatures can enjoy a bit of shelter
  • Compost/re-purpose your Christmas tree
  • Make a bug hotel and help keep your gardens eco system healthy
  • Tidy up the shed/greenhouse and sharpen your tools

 

Peonies

  • As you may know, come frost or snow, peonies really revel in the winter as it’s a time for them to rest and digest and get ready for spring. If you’ve cut them back in autumn once the leaves had wilted and put a little mulch around them (not in the middle) you can leave them be. They are hardy to about -20C and usually flower better than ever after a cold winter
  • If you didn’t cut the leaves back it’s best to do so as soon as possible to prevent the wet from bringing on the mould. And if there’s already some mould on the remains, don’t compost this foliage, rather put it straight in the bin. That’s the kind of love you don’t want to spread

 

Other Plants

  • Plan what you want to plant in spring and order the seeds, bulbs and tubers now
  • Check any supports or protection you put around your plants are still enduring
  • Look out for weeds and remove from the root
  • Get those bare root plants in now such as fruit trees, shrubs, hedges, peonies, roses and hardy geraniums
  • If you have already have fruit trees, shrubs, bushes and roses, now’s a good time to prune them
  • Dahlia can be uprooted, dried out and stored inside now to protect them from the harsh winter conditions. See how to overwinter them here
  • Harvest winter veg such as parsnips, kale, brussel sprouts and leek
  • Grow some microgreens or sprout some sprouts in your kitchen

 

After Heavy Snow

  • Remove snow from greenhouses and hedges to prevent damage
  • Try not to walk on the grass after heavy snow or frost as it will damage it. But if you must make a snowman, the fun is worth the risk

 

Indoor Container Plants

  • Make sure indoor plants are well hydrated and misted often as central heating can dry the air out and damage them

 

Outdoor Container Plants

  • Make sure your outside plants are getting enough water especially if partly sheltered. The soil should be damp by at least a hand’s depth
  • At the same time, you don’t want them too wet. Raise outdoor container plants onto feet or bricks to avoid them having soggy “feet”

 

As you can see, there’s plenty to do so we better get going!

Peony of the Month and Gifts!

What would Christmas be without red?

We picked this one as our peony of the month for that very reason - its rich red Christmassy hue.

‘Scarlet Heaven’ is an unusual, rare and highly collectable intersectional peony with large, single, bright crimson red flowers. This is a mid season bloomer with golden-yellow anthers and finely cut divided green foliage turning red in spring and autumn. The stems are sturdy, so no staking is required.

Red Itoh peonies are rare and ‘Scarlet Heaven’ is known to be one of the best of the reds as it performs very well.

Reminisce

Although they won’t be flowering at this time of year, when you do see them flowering from May - June next year you will have an opportunity to reminisce about all things Christmas and how much life has changed.

Or simply just enjoy the burst of red in the garden.

And as we were speaking about in our previous post about gratitude – it could be an opportunity to reflect on the wonders of nature. How grateful we are for all those juicy underground processes that produce these fantastic flowers.

Gift Ideas

However, if you’re looking for ways to get into the blooming season spirit right now, there are other ways to give the gift of a peony.

For instance, with our giftware range!

And if you have a few friends and family with different talents, there are options for every flare:

For the Plantsman/woman:

A beautiful British Bloom collection of gardening tools (manufactured by Burgon & Ball and RHS endorsed) with a Peony and Dahlia design. The Trowel and Fork are made from hardened and tempered stainless steel for superior strength and durability (years of rust resistance) and engraved with a quote from Gertrude Jekyll:

“The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies”

There are Beech Wood handled options too.

Also in this range:

 

For the Tea Lover:

An English fine bone ‘Breakfast Tea Gift Set’ belongs in every tea lovers home. Made in England together with a British artist, this collection of teapot, milk jug and printed tea towel has a delicate peony blooms, buds and bee illustration in soft light rose pink and a deeper warm pink.

Also in this range:

 

For the Chef/Baker Extraordinaire:

With the same lovely design described above, the oven gloves and apron set bring Spring back into the kitchen, no matter what the season.

For the Interior Decorator:

How about a cotton cushion cover with peony art printed on both sides?

Or beautiful works of art available as mounted prints or as framed pictures?

Both designed by Carolyn Carter who has used our award-winning peonies as inspiration to create a unique and exclusive fine art collection.

 

And if you can’t decide, perhaps a gift voucher is best.

We’re all for simplifying what can sometimes feel like a season of silliness.

May it be more merry than mad!

 

Christmas – A Time to Give Back

Is it just me or is this year speeding to a halt?

Another year! Another December! And we’re all still around to enjoy it.

Now that’s something to be grateful for.

Another thing to be thankful for is our gardens. They are just the best little pieces of peace we could ever have. Sanctuaries. Places to experiment and learn more about life and ourselves.

This time of year is a good opportunity to think about how we can show our gratitude.

Here are some ideas:

Give to the Earth

One way you can do this is by thinking of ways we can look after the environment.

For instance, cutting down on unnecessary waste at this time by reusing old Christmas decorations. Or making your own out of natural/recycled materials.

Give to Your Peonies

While your peonies are not flowering they’re having a long, rejuvenating slumber underground.

So here are some ways you can show your peonies some gratitude for all the hard work they’ve done and are still doing:

Herbaceous and Itoh

  • With the stems and leaves having died back, trim the stems without cutting any exposed peony ‘eyes’
  • Make sure to clear the ground around each peony plant and dispose of the stems and leaves in the bin. It can be tempting to compost them but this may attract botrytis, especially if it is a wet winter.
  • If your peony is mature (5+years) it’s likely that the crown will push through the soil in winter and show some ‘eyes’. You won’t need to worry about protecting them as peonies love the cold of winter and will be just fine.

 

Tree peonies

  • While the leaves are also dead and require removing, there is no need to trim back the branches. They’ll be fine out there in the cold. If you’ve trimmed them already, that’s ok. As long as the roots are well established the branches will grow back.
  • Unlike Herbaceous peonies, Tree peonies like to be buried more deeply. So if it looks like it needs a bit of a boost, experiment with adding a few inches of soil around the base of the trunk.

 

Give a Peony

As mentioned, peonies aren’t flowering now. But they will be next year and the year after that and the year after that!

Peonies are the most wonderful, long lasting gift to give as they really do just keep on giving. They grow on for decades.

And although the receiver may find it a bit strange getting a pot of soil with some dormant roots in it, they will not be disappointed.

You can think of it like gifting a savings account to a relative for future gifts. Such as being able to go to university or buying a piece of property. They may not be able to enjoy it right now but when they do, it will be the best gift ever!

And that’s peonies – the best forever gift.

Peonies in Autumn

Although we may feel like taking a bit of a break after a strange summer and all the Chelsea excitement, work does not stop when Autumn comes around.

Don't put those tools away just yet, there are plenty of things to be done in the garden! And not just playing the fool (although that is important too)!

Here are some suggestions of best garden practice in Autumn.

Planting

September and October are the ideal time for getting those new peonies in the ground. In short, you'll want to:

  • plant them in a sunny/partly shady and sheltered spot
  • make sure the soil is free draining
  • plant herbaceous peonies with the crown no more than 5cm below the ground. With container grown plants, simply plant them out at the same level as they were in the pot

 

(Detailed instructions on planting tree, herbaceous and intersectional peonies)

Moving and Dividing

If you have a well-established peony in your garden that’s happily expanding, late October/early November is the perfect time to move and/or divide it. Contrary to popular opinion, peonies don’t mind a change of scenery. In fact they quite like it, as long as you follow a few simple guidelines:

  • Cut back any dead foliage to about 2cm above the ground
  • Dig up as big a clump as possible, being careful not to damage any ‘eyes’ or buds that are developing at or just below surface level
  • Divide your peony with either a sharp spade or a pruning knife (depending on the size of the plant), ensuring that each piece of root that you divide has at least 3-5 ‘eyes’ or buds
  • Whether you are moving or dividing your peony it is best to plant it as soon as possible after lifting it to minimise disruption to the root system - ideally planting it the same day

 

Like us, peonies take some time to adjust to new things, so it may happen that your peony will not flower the following year. As long as you have taken the above care in replanting it, you don’t have to worry. This is normal and it is just taking some time to settle in to its new position. It will no doubt flower in years to come.

In the meantime

Before you start launching into getting your peonies ready for their next fabulous flowering season, there is something worth taking a few moments to savour – their foliage.

The colours on peonies Autumn leaves is a feast for the eyes. You can expect to see varying shades of reds, oranges, purples, greens and browns.

It’s really such a treat and a great opportunity to take some time out from the day - best enjoyed with a fellow nature enthusiast, relaxing on the garden bench over a cup of tea.

The range of autumn colours on Herbaceous peony leaves is very wide but Intersectional peonies foliage maintain their rich hues and last considerably longer than Herbaceous peonies in autumn. And while Herbaceous leaves tend to go brown and shrivel up before dropping off, Intersectionals leaves maintain their form and prettiness right until the very end. Look at them showing off their fancy foliage (pictured right)!

And that’s one of the many reasons we love peonies – their ability to remain elegant, no matter what!

Peony of the Month – ‘Cytherea’

What’s love got to do with it?

Staying true to the Greek origins of the word paeonia, this peony with its perfection of form is aptly named. In Greek mythology Cytherea is another name for Aphrodite – the goddess of love and beauty.

And the goblet shaped form of these deep cherry red petals is enough to make anyone fall in love!

As temperatures rise this semi-double unfolds, becoming a more open bowl shape and fades to a rose colour, then salmon pink and finally pure white as the season progresses.

Cytherea is a herbaceous peony. Herbaceous peonies are a timeless classic perennial plant for the garden. They die down in the winter and come back in spring, each year producing better displays than the one before.

Origins

An early mid season bloomer, Cytherea is rare and highly sought after. It was registered in 1953 by Saunders and awarded the APS Gold Medal in 1980.

Professor Saunders is one of the world’s most well-known peony hybridizer, becoming known as the “Father” of the modern hybrid peony. His scientific breeding program with herbaceous and tree peonies was extensive and done with the help of friends at the New York Botanical Garden.

Although he was not the first to cross peony species, he was the first to bring a large variety of species together. He systematically crossed each one with the other, most of which hadn’t been used in crossing before. This resulted in the creation of a huge number of hybrid races and varieties, bringing new colours in and lengthening the flowering time.

An Albiflora x lobata hybrid, Cytherea is just one of those very many beautiful results of Saunders' work. It makes a great cut flower and has a light, sweet scent that makes it even more welcome in a vase on the table.

In the Garden

Cytherea was awarded the APS Award of Landscape Merit in 2009. This award is for peonies that have outstanding landscape and growth characteristics. Some of these characteristics are their disease resistance and the ability to withstand adverse weather. They protect themselves by closing up in unfavourable conditions and open up again when the coast is clear.

Do you have a spot in the garden you’re looking to fill? Although it is quite an intense shade of red initially, it is a remarkably easy colour to pair with other colours in the garden such as yellows, purples and blues.

Let your imagination go wild!

Otherwise you could combine Cytherea with a few other red peonies in different tones such as ‘Buckeye Belle’ with its deep red blooms, ‘Riches and Fame’ in all its fuschia/pink red glory and 'Miss Mary' with its rich red single flowers and golden stamens.

So much choice.

Which ones will you pick?

Peony of the Month – ‘Bowl of Beauty’

These fantastical pink flowers remind me of something that might feature in a Dr Seuss movie. I expect a whole family of microscopic people to be living within its anemone-like centre.

‘Bowl of Beauty’ is an early flowering, herbaceous peony. Their blooms are massive, measuring up to 20cm across, and have a lovely fragrance. And you’ll be making the bees very happy having this one in your garden with its open, Japanese form.

Registered in 1949 by Hoogendoorn, this Chinese peony is also the recipient of an RHS AGM (Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit).

But what’s an AGM all about?

What’s an AGM?

The Award of Garden Merit is based on assessment of the plants performance under UK growing conditions and the Royal Horticultural Society’s seal of approval for consistent performance. Beginning in 1922, this has been an award for quality to garden plants (including trees, vegetables and decorative plants) by the RHS.

What does it take to nab that AGM?

Before being awarded, the plants go through trials that are often done at Wisley and judged by experts. The plant has to be proven reliable in the garden and the AGM is the RHS’ seal of approval for consistent performance.

The award winning plants must:

  • Be available horticulturally
  • Be of outstanding excellence for garden decoration or use
  • Be of good constitution
  • Not require highly specialist growing conditions or care
  • Not be particularly susceptible to any pest or disease
  • Not be subject to an unreasonable degree of reversion

 

You will find this and more information on the AGM here – RHS AGM

This award is applied to a limited amount of plants each year so if a plant doesn’t have the stamp of approval it doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t a good choice for you.

However, if you see the AGM stamp of approval you can be sure that plant is suitable for most British gardens. And it will most probably do well in yours.

Reviews of the awarded plants are done regularly to ensure that the list stays up to date. This is because some plants may no longer meet this criteria or have been replaced by better cultivars.

After a recent peony trial, the RHS awarded an Award of Garden Merit  to 45 varieties of peony, 39 of which we are currently growing!

Some of these are mentioned here (thanks Country Living!)

Have you got any AGM holders going and growing in your garden already?

If not, maybe you’ll want to start with this beauty…

The Late Bloomers

The unexpectedly cold weather we experienced in April made our peonies afraid to put their heads out.

And understandably so. Those sub-zero temperatures were a shock to us too - we had to get all our winter woollies out of storage!

Like us, after the warm spell in March, you were probably all geared up to get to work on your garden over Easter. But with temperatures peaking in the single digits and snow in some areas during April, that just didn’t happen.

We hope those overnight frosts didn’t kill too much of your garden off.

Chief horticulturalist at the Royal Horticultural Society, Guy Barter, said: “Overnight frosts in April are dreaded by gardeners. Magnolia and camellia flowers are ruined, fruit blossom and young fruitlets including pears and apples are spoiled and the tender tips of potatoes will be burnt off if they appear above ground. Gardener’s hearts are in their mouths through April as they anxiously scan the weather forecasts for frost warnings ready to rush out and cover vulnerable plants to ward off damage.”

 

THE UPDATED FLOWERING SCHEDULE

Understandably, flowering season has been considerably delayed and we feel your frustration.

Typically, tree peonies are the first to bloom followed by herbaceous and intersectional. Intersectional or Itoh peonies often flower twice as long as tree peonies.

The following is a general guideline of the flowering season for peonies in the UK.

Weather conditions and your specific location will affect this timing. However, due to the cold weather we experienced you can expect these time estimates to be delayed by approximately 3-4 weeks.

 

Very Early - flowering begins late April

Early - flowering begins early May

Mid - flowering begins mid-late May

Late - flowering begins early June

 

LATE SEASON BLOOMERS

With all this talk about late flowering, let’s have a look at some of the late bloomers beautiful faces we should be seeing near the end of this month (pictured right):

 

Paeonia ‘Old Faithful’

Herbaceous perennial with finely cut dark green foliage and fully double velvety red flowers. Vigorous, must-have plant.

 

Paeonia lactiflora ‘Couronne d’Or’

A herbaceous perennial with finely cut dark green foliage and large double flowers comprising ivory coloured outer petals and red/yellow flecked centres. Excellent cut flowers.

 

Paeonia lactiflora ‘Nippon Beauty’

A herbaceous perennial with finely cut dark green foliage with large, fragrant, single flowers with ruby red outer petals and red feathery centres with cream coloured edging. Striking and will flower heavily.

 

Paeonia lactiflora ‘Sword Dance’ AGM

Large, deep wine-red guard petals and golden staminoids, Japanese style peony. A show-stopper!

 

Paeonia lactiflora ‘Bowl of Beauty’

This classic, long lived perennial has very large flowers with carmine pink outer petals and lots of tiny creamy petals in the centre.

 

Paeonia lactiflora ‘Felix Crousse’

A herbaceous perennial with finely cut green foliage and a heavily scented stunning double magenta red flowers.

 

Paeonia lactiflora ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ AGM

This excellent example of the classic, long lived perennial has very large, double, fragrant rose-pink flowers. The inner petals are ruffled and have silvered margins.

 

Paeonia lactiflora ‘Sorbet’

Herbaceous perennial with attractive foliage and large, fragrant, double soft pink flowers with cream coloured frills.

 

After flowering season it is best to deadhead your peonies, cutting off the flower heads.

If you deadhead the peony stems after blooming, the energy can be used for future stem and root growth instead of making seeds.