Christmas Velvet – Plant of the Month

Are you dreaming of a white Christmas?

Snow is magical. We watch it from our windows picturing ourselves frolicking in what seems to be perfectly light, white fluffiness.

In our excitement we hurry down to the nearest park and proceed to scrape together what we hope will be a bright, white, artful sculpture. But it turns out to be more of an unrecognisable, beige slushie.

Sometimes reality can be disappointing.

But we are absolutely certain you will not be disappointed by the reality of the lush red opulence of Christmas Velvet – our plant of the month.

Just look at her standing there in all her velvety glory. Isn’t she lovely?

I say “she” just because these particular flowers lend themselves to being wonderfully womanly in their voluptuousness.

However, it is interesting to note that the female peony (Paeonia officinalis) and the male peony (P. mascula) have been used in Europe medicinally since time immemorial. It isn't quite clear today why they are referred to as male and female as both are male (having pollen/sperm) and both are female (having eggs within ovules that turn into seeds). So both "male" and "female" function within the same flower. However, some say male peonies can be larger than the females and history speaks of a few other theories but these are known as the common names for these plants today.

Christmas Velvet is a rare and very collectible plant of the herbaceous variety. Its large, full double, bomb-shaped blooms sporting many velvety petals are supported by sturdy stems and flower vigorously, close to the foliage. The leaves are relatively fine and compact which contributes to more open looking shrubbery than the average peony. It has a mild sweet fragrance, flowers May/June and reaches 80cm in height. Originating in the US it is very versatile as it can be used in landscaping and as a cut flower.

When looking at the breeding specs of this flower it has a seed parent (P. lactiflora) called "Mikado".

I don't know about you but that immediately had me singing that “Flowers that bloom in the Spring, tra-la” song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado” here.

Between that and the pollen parent (P. officinalis 'Alba Plena' x P. peregrina (lobata Perry)) “Good Cheer” there’s so many reasons for having a good sing song!

So if you have a happy little slumbering Christmas Velvet in your garden already you will have found, like other peonies, it is happy in a sheltered position in any fertile, free-draining soil in full sun or part shade. (If you would like one, click on the image alongside to pre-order for next year)

If placed in a sunny position you will enjoy seeing the initial strong red-coloured bud fading beautifully as it opens. If in partial shade the red will deepen after opening. It’s best to find a position where there is a balance of sun and shade – too much shade and the amount of flowers per plant will likely decrease.

When it comes to red peonies, colours range from bright blood red, true red, orange-red to darker reds with brown, mahogany, sangria or wine overtones. Such is the marvel that is the peony that you could line up all the different varieties of red peonies next to each other and they would all be a different shade of red!

Speaking of wine, I'm sure you're aware that the sometimes bizarre tasting notes that can be found on the back of the bottles are all subjective (who wants to drink tobacco and grass cuttings?). It can be similar with peony colour definitions. Basically, their colour description is done by whomever is looking at them. And we all see colour differently, don’t we? I have found myself in quite a few heated discussions with friends over the years about whether a colour is more blue than it is green and vice versa. Or shall we agree to disagree that it’s just teal?

How would you describe the ruby red colour of these lovelies that are Christmas Velvet?