Tissue-paper heaven


Once you see a gorgeous tree peony in bloom, you will appreciate how truly out-of-this-world they are. 

Real show stoppers, blooming the last week of April, tree peonies are quite different from herbaceous peonies (which bloom about a month later). The latter dies back to the ground every fall, whereas tree peonies are woody-stemmed, deciduous shrubs which will grow to their mature size of three to four feet tall in eight years. Never prune a tree peony unless you want to remove dead wood or to shape.

Their full, large blossoms will reach five to six inches wide (sometimes up to nine), with colors ranging from fluffy white, to alluring pale yellow with diffused maroon flares, to gold, coral, lavender, pink, raspberry red, and extremely dark crimson; many have very pleasing color combinations and flares.

The petals on a tree peony blossom can be alluringly ruffled, crimped, fluted, cupped, veined, twisted, fluffy, tousled, blushed, notched, velvety or almost transparent; some resemble crushed silk. All are quite floriferous with excellent flower carriage, while others add fragrance to the intrigue and excitement.

Tree peonies appreciate light shade from the hot mid-day sun and protection from drying winds. They like alkaline soil which is well drained, friable and organic. Incorporate a slow-release, high phosphorous fertilizer into the soil when planting, and provide sufficient moisture. 

Tree peonies are hardy from zones 4 to 8; our Metro area is zone 7.

Buy container grown 3- to 4 year-old plants, either in flower or which will flower this April. By buying mature tree peonies, you get instant gratification from a plant that understands its mission in life is to please you with gorgeous flowers now. 

These lovely plants only seem to exist in the fantasy world, but many of our local plant nurseries carry them. Merrifields and Holly, Woods & Vines have a wide selection.  Another source for 29 tree peony varieties is Klehms Song Sparrow Farm Nursery in Avalon, Wis. (1-800-553.3715 or www.songsparrow.com). 

Nancy Burns, owner of Garden Ideas, is a Certified Master Gardener; Horticulture Information Director of District 2Natl. Capital Area Garden Clubs; Belle Haven Garden Club President; and Secretary, National Capital Orchid Society.  n.burns@cox.net or 703-329-1899.