—Joanne S. Carpender, National Gardener, August 2004
Peoniesby Allan Rogers, Linda Engstrom, Linda Engstrom
Al Rogers has been growing peonies since childhood, and this book represents more than 60 years' experience. Peonies are treasured by gardeners for their longevity, lush foliage, rich fragrance, and landscape uses. Captured within these pages are not only the flavor, charm, and history of the peony and its hybridizers but also expert information about the genus
Al Rogers has been growing peonies since childhood, and this book represents more than 60 years' experience. Peonies are treasured by gardeners for their longevity, lush foliage, rich fragrance, and landscape uses. Captured within these pages are not only the flavor, charm, and history of the peony and its hybridizers but also expert information about the genus Paeonia and its many cultivars. The species are discussed, and from the thousand-odd listed cultivars of both tree and herbaceous peonies, Rogers singles out the truly superior for recommendation, along with some introductions that show great promise. Enthusiastic amateurs and professionals alike will be thrilled with the complete and detailed information supplied in Peonies — an important book for any gardener's library.
—Ann Lovejoy, Horticulture, February 2000
—Pacific Horticulture, Winter 1999
“Neither merely for the home gardener nor strictly for professionals, [this] clearly and astutely written book is for all plant lovers.” —Booklist “Besides botanical information there is peony history, lore, people, identification, propagation, hybridizing and cultivation to make this a fascinating book.” —National Gardener “His writing is authoritative and scholarly.” —Pacific Horticulture “Numerous color photos whet the appetite for a wide range of material; a source for many outstanding cultivars is laid out in an appendix which in and of itself if worth the price of the book.” —American Rhododendron Society Journal “The amateur is well served here, but so too is the would-be commercial grower. Rogers offers the equivalent of a full course in every aspect of peony raising, from culture to propagation.” —Horticulture “The first comprehensive peony treatise in several decades. . . . Breeders, propagators, and home gardeners alike will enjoy the very readable text. . . . a valuable reference for all peony lovers. Highly recommended.” —Choice “An important book for any gardener’s library.” —American Peony Society Bulletin “Rogers’ love affair with peonies shows through his book, introducing a new generation to another flower out of our grandmothers’ gardens, guaranteeing perpetuity.” —Pacific Northwest Gardener “It combines obvious passion for peonies. . . . with meticulous historical and scientific research.” —Homeground “Anyone who loves peonies will be delighted with this new book.” —Saskatchewan Gardener “He has packed this book with a wealth of detailed information about these magnificent, old-time favorites, and included an impressive listing of all species and cultivars currently available.” —Manchester (CT) Journal Inquirer
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Read an Excerpt
Keep in mind that a peony is a long-term investment; if properly cared for, a plant will bring you pleasure for forty years or more. The savvy gardener plans ahead, therefore, by requesting the catalogs of several specialist peony nurseries, which offer not only a wider choice of plants but often better grown plants as well. Select the plants most suitable to your situation, and order them for fall delivery. It is best to plant peonies in the fall; this allows the plants to make the most of the favorable autumn and early winter days to adapt to their new surroundings and to add root structure. Nevertheless, gardeners should take advantage of the opportunity if local nurseries offer healthy-looking potted plants of desired cultivars in the spring.
If you plan to purchase your plants from a retail nursery, take heed, for retail nurseries have the habit of potting up their peonies in the fall. Root growth initiated in the fall is insufficient to form a solid root ball, and when a plant thus treated is removed from its pot, the root ball often shatters. To minimize plant damage, prepare the planting site and amend the backfill before attempting to remove your plant from its pot. When the hole is dug and the soil prepared, carefully remove the peony from its pot and plant immediately. If the pot is made of fiber, cut the sides down to the bottom in several places and nearly around the bottom as well. Then plant, tattered pot and all.
Select planting sites that receive at least six hours of sunlight a day, that are well away from competing tree or shrub roots, and that are at least 2 feet away from a wall or a paved driveway or walkway. If planting near a roof overhang, place the plants beyond the roofline so rain can reach them. Plants being grown primarily for cut flowers could be planted to edge the vegetable garden or with perennial asparagus or rhubarb, which have similar soil requirements.
A permanent, long-term perennial needs the best start possible. My father, an avid gardener, had this advice for me: "Always dig a dollar hole to put a ten-cent plant in." Since I was the one digging the holes and removing all the rocks from our New England soil, it was advice I thoroughly detested at the time. Today I treasure it and I continue to urge its wisdom, for it remains as valid and as important as ever.
The planting hole for a peony in fertile soil should be at least 15 inches deep and 30 inches wide. A smaller planting hole may suffice for the first two or three years' growth, but it will not be adequate beyond that time. Remember the time-tested adage: The first year the peony sleeps, the second year it creeps, and the third year it leaps. The planting hold must be sufficiently large to accomodate that third-year leap and the growth of the years beyond.
Obviously, the better the soil, the more vigorous the peonies will be. If your soil is questionable, have it tested. The cost of such a test, equal to that of a choice peony root, is a sound investment. When preparing a new bed for several peonies, till or spade the soil as deeply as possible. Add fertilizer as indicated by the soil test and till again. If the soil has not been tested, add nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) as recommended on a package of general garden fertilizer; see the section on fertilization, next up in this chapter, for specifics. If possible, let the bed — prepared and fertilized — lie fallow for several weeks. Just before planting, weed and till once more.
Upgrading poor soil for planting just a few peonies is not difficult. In particular, the soil in built-up areas may need some help. Such spots are notorious for having had the topsoil buried during preparation for construction and the ensuing labors. At typical planting depths, the soil is usually made up of poor subsoil and building debris, covered, at best, with a thin skin of topsoil.
Here is the remedy. Dig large holes, at least 24 inches in diameter and at least 18 inches deep. If some good topsoil can be salvaged, set it aside and discard the subsoil. Next, mix well-aged compost with the topsoil to make the backfill mixture. Do not use fresh manure, which burns tender new roots, or sawdust or bark dust; they rob the soil of nitrogen. If planting in heavy clay, do not add sand — the mixture may end up like concrete. Rather, mix in compost or peat moss to loosen and amend the clay.
Meet the Author
Al Rogers, born in Haverhill, Massachusetts, acquired his first peony cultivar in 1929 at age eight. He owned and operated Caprice Farm Nursery, a successful peony nursery and mail-order supplier, for more than twenty years. Over the years he has written and lectured on peonies and other perennials, and served as a director on the board of the Perennial Plant Association for eight years.
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