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Meet miss April: the silky-petaled peony is poised to steal the spotlight this month. Why? Rich colors, delicious fragrance, and luxuriant foliage.

Ten words that best describe you?

Horticulturist Nicholas Staddon calls me "an absolute smoker in every way--a dazzling, breathtaking head-turner."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

You've been called devastating. Why?

I steal hearts with my blowsy excesses, according to writer Amy Stewart. And I can be very fickle, especially in the West's warm climates.

What about you past?

I'm an international femme fatale: I have roots in every port. I'm the unofficial national flower of China, where I represent beauty, peace, nobility. I've had flings in Europe too--maybe that's where my blooms came to signal good fortune in romance.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

But you've settled in the West.

I've flowered in Oregon gardens almost from the state's beginnings; settlers traveling West during the 19th century carried my dormant roots in their covered wagons. The roots in their covered wagons. The cold Northwest winters invite me to bloom.

Human alter ego?

Penelope Cruz

Your signature scent?

It changes with my mood--anything from slightly spicy to old-rose or a hint of citrus.

You've worn pink on the red carpet. Any other colors?

Cream, snowy white, deep rose, yellow, apricot--even shades of copper and levender. Forget modesty: I'm ravishing in every hue.

Pick up a peony

* Choose

* FOR COOL CLIMATES

Three new Itoh hybrids (crosses between tree peonies and herbaceous peonies): 'Bartzella' (very large bright yellow blooms), 'Pink Double Dandy' (pink, of course), or 'Yellow Doodle Dandy'.

* FOR COOL OR WARM CLIMATES

Four herbaceous favorites: 'Blaze' (bright red single), 'Festiva Maxima' (white double with crimson flecks in the center), 'Sarah Bernhardt' (pink), or 'Sea Shell (Satiny pink single).

* Shop

Buy plants (up to $100 at nurseries for Itoh hybrids, or $40 for standard herbaceous), starting in late April in warmer climates, May in cooler regions. You'll get the most reliable bloom from 3-year-old plants in 5-gallon pots.

* Tour and buy

Around 200 varieties of herbaceous and tree peonies start blooming in late March and continue into June at Chateau CharMarron Peony Gardens (5335 Sierra Rd., San Jose; 4peonies.com or 408/251-7048). Next month, view 300 varieties covering 10 acres at Adelman Peony Gardens (May 1-Jun 15; 5690 Brooklake Rd. N.E., Salem, OR; peonyparadise.com or 503/393-6185).

PHOTOGRAPH BY JON JENSEN

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Author:Brenzel, Kathleen N.
Publication:Sunset
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2010
Words:366
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