The June Garden

Perfect Peonies

I always feel that the garden in June is just about as perfect as it gets – when blooms are abundant, leaves are still fresh and there are delicious strawberries ripening in the fruit garden; planting out tender vegetables and displaying summer bedding when the threat of frost has passed.

One plant sums up early summer for me and that is the Peony, with large, scented flamboyant blooms that to me have an unrivalled beauty and elegance.

They have a reputation for being tricky; for never flowering or hating being moved. It’s true that Peonies have a short flowering period which puts some people off.

However, the tricky reputation is unfounded as treated correctly they are long lived, easy care and low maintenance, and their unfurling spring foliage is often an attractive reddish pink which extends the season of interest.

Double-flowered herbaceous peonies such as fluffy pink ‘Sarah Bernhardt’, and ‘Double White’ are often the most popular, but semi double flowered and single flowered varieties are also well worth having. ‘Bowl of Beauty’ for instance, has deep pink single flowers with a centre of soft yellow ruffled petals which makes for a stunning contrast.

‘Krinkled White’ looks like a fried egg with delicate white petals surrounding yellow stamens. The single varieties often need less support than the heavy blooms of the doubles.

Intersectional or ‘Itoh’ Peonies (named after the Japanese breeder) are herbaceous peonies crossed with a tree peony. A longer flowering period together with some stunning colours makes these more popular each year.

True yellow flowers such as ‘Bartzella’ or coral such as ‘Coral Charm’ are irresistible. The woodier stems are unlikely to suffer from Peony wilt, too.

The usual reason for lack of flowering is planting Peonies too deeply. To avoid a sulky plant, the woody roots should be planted no deeper than 2.5cm, into improved, well-drained soil, in full sun. Moving them successfully is simply a case of doing it at the right time. The time to move peonies is October when dormancy is just beginning. They can also be divided then, although large, happy clumps can flower well for decades so it’s not essential – in fact Peony bushes regularly reach over 50 years old, even 100!

It’s worth supporting Peonies as they get so heavy in flower. Traditionally, wire cages were used, put in place just as each plant started into growth, which flared out at the top to show the flowers to their best advantage. These are still available today and can look very attractive in the herbaceous border.

Once established, a general feed such as fish blood and bone applied in spring as growth starts is all that is needed.

Jobs in the June Garden

  • Ventilate the greenhouse daily and consider using shade netting or special paint to shield plants from the sun’s rays.
  • Sow salad veg like lettuce, spring onions and beetroot every two weeks for a continuous supply.
  • Cover strawberry plants with netting to deter birds now fruit is beginning to colour.
  • Tie in tomato stems and remove side shoots regularly.
  • Thin out apples, pears and plums if the crop is very heavy.
  • Plant out Sweetcorn (in a block to aid wind pollination) and other tender vegetables if not already completed in May.
  • Keep hanging baskets and containers well-watered.
  • Dead head roses to promote further flowers and check for pest and disease, treating as necessary.
  • Give Buxus (Box) its first trim – traditionally this is done on Derby Day (the first Saturday in June).
  • Plant Dahlias into borders and support as soon as possible.

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