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Say it with Peony Roses and give your plot flower power.


THE flower bed outside my kitchen window looks dead at the moment - except for one corner.

Just pushing through the earth is a crown of blunt red shoots. It's the best sight you'll see in a January garden, because it means the peonies are on the way.

In Scotland, they're have always been Peony Roses, probably on the sensible grounds that they look just as good as roses. But I like to think of them as the Lazy Man's Rose. All the flower power, but none of the pruning and spraying that roses require.

Peonies are tough and versatile plants and they are not fussy about soil, so long as they have an annual top dressing of compost.

They particularly like the Scottish climate - our chilly winters, high rainfall and temperate summers seem to suit them.

So what's the downside ? Well, they don't take kindly to root disturbance and splitting, so the showy named hybrids are always expensive.

If you are buying a mature plant, you'll need to dig a big hole - two feet wide and two feet deep is best. Put manure in the bottom then a layer of topsoil and then plant the tubers about two inches below ground level.

When huge, glorious peonies were at the height of fashion, gardeners made special peony gardens for maximum impact.

I'd love to do the same and I've often thought of moving my plants of 'Sarah Bernhardt' - sugar pink and deliciously scented - and 'Bowl of Beauty', with its yellow and pink flowers, and starting my own peony garden. They would look fabulous mingling with Astrantia maxima.

I have been planning a huge planting of peonies, but this time species peonies growing in an open woodland setting. These are peonies in their wild form, all exquisite plants and most of them tolerate light shade . They are expensive to buy as plants, but are easy to grow from seed. So one of my long-term hobbies has been growing species peony seedlings in pots.

You need patience because it can take four or five years to produce a plant ready for the garden. For the best results, get the freshest seed you can. You'll find two sorts of seed in the pod. Discard the bright red ones because they're infertile. Plant out the glossy bluey-black ones that look like little beetles.

The seed should be pushed about an inch below the surface of a good seed compost in a 5-inch pot. I always cover the surface with a layer of grit, which keeps it clean and moss free.

Don't plant it out until at least the third year after germination. If they are looking a bit feeble, leave them in the pot for another year.

There is only one problem. Grouped in a mass, peonies attract a form of the grey botrytis fungus. However, a good fungicide can resolve the problem.

With a small new garden, you might think about using peonies as many folk use roses: as the backbone for your planting. They co-exist well with other plants and I think their flowers are better than many roses.

If you still need persuading, read Martin Page's excellent Gardener's Guide To Growing Peonies (David and Charles).


If you have a gardening problem, write to Gardenlife at Daily Record, One Central Quay, Glasgow G3 8DA

Q MY apples in past years have been riddled with maggots. What can I do to prevent them ?

A YOU don't say when in the year this happens, so there are two likely possibilities. If the fruit falls early in the summer, then the culprit is the apple sawfly. If the apples grow to full size, then it sounds like the codling moth, which is a very destructive pest. If the fruit shows signs of damage in the early summer, pick it off the tree and burn it. If you allow it to fall, then the sawfly larva will mature in the ground and make the problem worse next year. The little white codling moth caterpillars eat invisibly out from the core of the fruit, rendering it useless for anything other than the compost heap.

Fortunately, the cure is the same for both. Spray with an insecticide containing permethrin twice during the summer. For the codling moth, a good alternative is to break into the breeding cycle. You can buy a kit for pheromone trap from most garden centres and it last six weeks in its effectiveness. I have had good results with this over a couple of years.


IT might seem odd that the discreet little winter aconite and the showy peonies once belonged to the same plant family.

But both are slow growers. It takes three years for the aconite to produce a flower, but thereafter it flowers and spreads reliably year after year.

In recent years, I have concentrated on getting my snowdrops established. Now it's the turn of the aconites. Some folk find they grow like weeds, but I've had trouble getting them started. Buy some strong plants from an alpine nursery, or bulbs from a specialist supplier.

Aconites are often planted with the early spring flowering Crocus thomassianus, and one of the best is Ruby Giant, an intense reddish purple that sets off the aconites far better than either violet or the lilac crocuses.

Once you have an established drift of winter aconites, a number of the bulbs should be dug up and replanted immediately after they have flowered and with a bit of green leaf attached.

If you have none in the ground already, plant some this spring.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jan 13, 2001
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