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?

Why peonies think Autumn is cool

Autumn. What does it conjure up in your mind?

I’m thinking snuggling with the dog by the fire with a good book and hot choccie.

Wrapping up warmly for brisk walks in the crisp morning air.

Guilt-free lie-ins on weekends.

For some of us it’s not so rosy. When the cold starts setting in we may feel like death warmed up and struggle to extract ourselves from the comforting warmth of our bed.

So we may be inclined to think that our peonies also don’t like the cold weather. We may even think they're dead!

Never fear although winter is near. As mentioned last week, autumn is actually a good time for peonies. They quite enjoy the cold and the opportunity to hibernate. They need these conditions to work on making a fresh batch of buds for you to enjoy in the spring.

So how do we treat our slumbering plant babies?

  • Allow foliage to remain until touched by frost. If you remove it sooner it will affect the plants ability to make and store food reserves needed for growth and flowering in spring.
  • Cut herbaceous foliage back to an inch or 2 above the surface and Itoh to about 4 inches, being careful not to damage the buds at ground level
  • Dispose of the foliage carefully, even burning it, to prevent peony wilt in the spring
  • Make sure your soil is well drained. This is very important no matter what type of soil you have, especially in winter.

 

Although peonies are happy in any good quality soil, at this time of year you might want to use a well-balanced fertiliser such as bone meal or our own Summer Rejuvenator

Some have come to believe that it isn’t a good idea to move peonies. On the contrary! Peonies are only too happy to have a change of scenery. And now is the perfect time to divide and move them!

Here's what to do:

  • Remove foliage (as mentioned above) and lift clump out keeping as many roots in tact as possible
  • Gently wash soil off the roots and growth buds
  • Remove sections of the crown (from which the buds grow) each with at least 3 dormant growth buds and some roots attached
  • Replant with buds no more than an inch below the soil
  • Water

 

If you are just starting out on your peony journey now is the time to purchase your potted or bare-root peonies online and do as follows:

  • If unable to plant bare roots straight away, you can keep them in their shipping box in a cool, dry location for a few days if necessary
  • For potted peonies it is best to remove from all packaging and plant as soon as possible.
  • Pick a sunny, well-drained spot that has at least a square metre away from other plants otherwise they will be competing for moisture and nutrients
  • Dig hole the same depth as the root ball and twice as wide
  • Pat soil down gently when covering your peony, making sure the red buds are no more than 1 inch below the soil to encourage flowering
  • Water after planting to settle the soil and in dry spells. Drip irrigation is preferred to reduce the chance of fungal diseases

 

There is much more to say on this subject, which we will share in future posts but this should get you off to a good start.

In the meantime, please feel free to ask us anything. We love hearing from you!

Meet “Etched Salmon” Peony – Plant of the Month

So we picked “Etched Salmon” as our Plant of the Month. Isn't she lovely?

You'd be forgiven for mistaking these blooms for the underside of a ballerina's tutu. When spring rolls around, you’ll have these Swan-Lake-ruffled-feathery-fluffs in pink, gently prancing around upside down in your garden.

Sound blooming marvelous? Well, we think so too!

“Etched Salmon” is a rare herbaceous double hybrid variety first coming into being in 1968 and registered in 1981 by Cousins and Klehm, being awarded Gold Medal as "Peony of the Year" by the American Peony Society in 2002.

Interestingly, this variety was the only one to last all six days in the heat on our stand at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2019. Now that’s a tough cookie!

So let’s get the specs from toe to top on what this beauty’s all about:

Roots Fibrous, located close to the surface of the soil.

Stems Strong, each ending with a bud

Leaves Large, petiolate, medium green in a compact bush up to 80 cm high with divided foliage. Stays full until either the first frost or autumn. Resistant to wind and rain.

Buds You’ll see buds in the second year after planting and in the third and fourth year it’ll be blooming like a bomb

Blooms Silvery coral pink with a golden border around the edges. Resembles a rose in its rounded shape created by large outer guard petals protecting a bounty of smaller more delicate ones getting darker to the centre. Changes colour several times during flowering but won’t fade in the sun. Can be 16-17cm in diameter.

Aroma Delicate lemony aroma. (When will we have a scratch and sniff function on screens?)

If you’ve fallen in love and want to welcome this darling into your garden family click on the pic on the right! Autumn is the perfect time to start with one. As long as your soil is full of goodness and well drained (especially in winter) your peonies will be that gift that just keeps on giving with minimal maintenance. If you already have peonies and they didn't flower, Alec sheds some light on that here.

Although herbaceous peony stems die back in autumn and winter, don't worry that the cold has killed it off. Peonies need the cooler weather to work hard on developing flower buds to delight you with in spring.

We love seeing this change as autumn ushers in those crisp, cool mornings preparing us for the regeneration work of winter. A wide range of autumn colours can be found on herbaceous peonies. After they have changed colour, the next stage can look a bit dull as the foliage turns brown and curls up. However, this is good news for friendly insects such as ladybirds as they use the leaves to hibernate in. So leave those leaves alone for as long as possible, for ladybird’s sake.

We find it endlessly rewarding seeing the many faces of these plants as they live their lives alongside ours. And that's why we LOVE PEONIES! Because they last forever (60-100+ years) and they just keep getting better and more forgiving and giving with time!

If you'd like to get more into the nitty gritty of planting peonies in autumn we will be talking more about that later this month.

So pop back in to pick up some handy tips and ask us any questions you have!