Gardening / Famous flower grows fans

Tree peonies in the Rieks’ garden make a spectacular show.

WITH a history going back at least one thousand years BC, tree peonies are China’s most famous flower and can be seen everywhere from temples to public and private gardens.

Dr. Peter Valder is possibly one of the world’s most knowledgeable experts on Chinese plants and in his book “The Garden Plants of China” says: “Of all the flowers I have seen, I doubt that any are so extravagant and sumptuous as those of the tree peony.

“And while those of the Chinese herbaceous kinds are smaller, they have a quality and refinement which immediately claims attention.”

The tree peony, Paeonia suffruticosa, sheds its leaves in autumn while the herbaceous variety, Paeonia lactiflora, dies right down in winter.

Valder says both are mentioned in ancient literature for their medicinal use.

The herbaceous peony is native to northern China, Mongolia and eastern Siberia. In 690 AD it was known as the “dynastic ancestor of flowers” and  the tree peony “the king of flowers”.

Garden centres have peonies in stock for planting now. One of the most informative websites is at

Orchids… the perfect, long-lasting gift

OF all the massive range of orchids, the cymbidiums are possibly the most popular, certainly from a florist’s point of view.

Last month I was reading in “Country Life” magazine about the Chelsea Flower Show. It reported that McBean’s world-famous orchid nursery in Somerset has an orchid, Cymbidium lowianum, that is 117 years old and has been on McBean’s show stand every year for the last 102 years, winning too many gold medals to mention.

IS keeping chooks part of gardening? Most certainly, yes.

Let them loose in the garden during the day cleaning up the bugs and house them at night.

All the thousands of chickens on my family’s farm in England were free range in huge pens with large chook houses for night time use and protection from foxes.

For small chook pens it’s essential to have netting over the top besides the sides to stop foxes. They don’t only prowl at night, but anytime. One of my clients who did not take my advice lost four of the six chooks to a fox within the first week.

My father disliked chemical sprays and planted the apple trees in the chook pens; no problems with codling moth, the chooks ate them before they reached the apples.

More advice in Dave Ingham’s book “Backyard Chickens – How to Keep Happy Hens” (Murdoch Books, rrp $35).


  • It’s important not to put chook poo straight on the garden because it’s too high in ammonia and can burn plants. Best to let it cure in the compost heap first.
  • Sow asparagus and globe artichoke seeds now.
  • Time to plant potatoes, try several varieties

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