Sunday, February 6, 2011

Rambling: Bad Peony Timing

So. Gardening. This blog once had garden content. Then the garden filled up. Then winter came. Then NaNoWriMo came. Then I started the 100-fiction-words-a-day resolve, which is still in effect as a goal. And there wasn't a lot of gardening, in my writing or in real life.

But the days are getting longer, and this weekend was deceptively springlike. And, most important, I may have access to some fresh gardening space soon.


So it's time to start the spring gardening dance. Seed catalogs. Websites. Peonies. At this moment, particularly peonies. And, yes, I realize that it would have been much better to have thought of this in the fall.

I used to garden in the San Francisco Bay Area. Bay Area weather doesn't support peonies--there isn't enough winter chill. All the same, many of the garden centers sell the things, presenting me every year with those gorgeous pictures on glossy boxes of peony roots. Every gardener knows that there are plenty of things sold in garden centers that are highly unlikely to do anything at all in the garden, but that's usually about skill. And skill improves every year, so each spring the gardener buys a new batch of plants, and most die, but some unexpectedly live, or even bloom, and so everybody's happy.

But when the garden centers sell something that simply won't bloom unless you live a few thousand feet up a mountain or dump a truckful of ice on it every few days through the winter, that seems to be an unfair stacking of the deck. I planted and lost a couple of peonies before reading about them and learning that they were a doomed pursuit. Then I ignored what I read and planted some more. But nothing ever bloomed.

So when I moved to a Southern Oregon garden that not only supported peonies, but had one already blooming, I was excited. I planned to plant many more.  But we had new paths made and new beds built, and in all that tromping around, peony roots seemed somehow too fragile to insert and too hard to keep track of. So we installed roses for me and irises for Himself, and space filled up.

And then one fall I had a spark of peony determination, one that wouldn't wait for catalogs and mail-order, and I planted six of what they were selling at the hardware store. And then we revamped the irrigation system, and then we did remodeling, and people did their very best not to walk on the flower beds, but planting more seemed like a mistake. And then, two or maybe three years later, those peonies bloomed, and they were lovely, but they were still what they were selling at the hardware store. They weren't gasp-and-fall-down peonies. And the garden was full.

Anyway. Enough history. Now I may have another chance to plant the really glorious peonies, the ones that transcend the hardware store. Except... it's spring. And I should have planted them in the fall.


The quick thing to do would be to search local nurseries and buy any potted peonies that I can find. The sensible thing to do would be to accept reality, prepare a luxurious bed, perhaps plant a few annuals to keep myself entertained, and order roots for perfect, glorious, transcendent peonies, to be received and planted in the fall.

What, I wonder, are the odds that I'm going to do the sensible thing?

First Pink Peony Image: By Epibase. Wikimedia Commons.
Second Pink Peony Image: By Epibase. Wikimedia Commons.
White Peony Image: By Usien. Wikimedia Commons.
Striped Peony Image: By LapisLauzli Tomorrow. Wikimedia Commons.


  1. They sell peonies here in eastern NC, but only a couple of varieties. I used to think the chill wasn't enough during our 'winters' either, but over the last couple of winters it's been downright nasty for a couple of months straight. The other problem is the humidity in the summertime. Apparently they're prone to 'balling' (I still giggle when I say that, sorry) and won't bloom properly. I'm still tempted to try.

  2. I have no advice to give you about peonies. I tried to grow them here on the No Cal coast and they came up for a few years, no blooms, then disappeared. Good luck with whichever tack you take.

  3. Hey, Kyna! It's horribly horribly tempting, isn't it? I could restrain myself from mailordering things to California that simply won't grow, but when the garden centers give you hope by carrying them...

  4. Howdy, Christime! Yep, I think that one or two California peonies did put out leaves, but absolutely refused to bloom. Even more frustrating, the Oriental poppies that were exploding all over other people's plots would only try to bloom right next to the ground on mine, and never really opened. Those grow effortlessly in Oregon, too.

  5. I truly admire that you can keep a garden.

    I always kill my pathetic attempts.

    Ladaisi Blog

  6. Yo, ladaisi! I've killed many, many plants, and pretty much every houseplant I've ever owned. But I've learned which plants I can grow.