Peonies, coming ready or not!

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Peony “Sarah Bernhardt” growing in Cedric’s garden.

Peonies, pots, lawns and mulch catch the eye of gardening columnist CEDRIC BRYANT this week.

I ‘M always amazed at the speed some plants emerge from the ground. For example, our herbaceous peonies were showing no signs of life and literally within a week the new shoots were 30 centimetres high. 

Cedric Bryant.

There are two main types of peonies, herbaceous (lactiflora) and tree peonies (suffruticosa). 

Peter Valder in “The Garden Plants of China” says: “No other flower in China has ever surpassed the tree peony in winning and holding public esteem”. 

The tree peony (a misnomer as they usually only grow to about one metre) is also known as the “King of Flowers”. 

Peonies are easy to grow by following a few basic rules. They really love the addition of garden lime or dolomite mixed in with composted leaf litter in the soil when preparing a well-drained hole. 

Tree peonies will tolerate full sun, but the herbaceous varieties prefer filtered shade in high summer. 

They sometimes take a year before flowering, so be patient and don’t disturb them once planted. Peonies have been grown in Northern China, Mongolia and Siberia for well over 1000 years. 

It is not known how many varieties are now available; for instance, in Holland in 1892 one Dutch breeder was offering more than 500 varieties!

DESPITE the ever decreasing size of building blocks and the increasing concrete jungles of high-rise units, according to Yates, the sale of veggie seeds continues to increase. 

Householders with sunny balconies are growing veggies and herbs in pots and hanging baskets. Also there’s no reason why veggies can’t be grown amongst other plants. Herbs, carrots, lettuce and English spinach can all be grown amongst the ornamental perennials.

VISITING the Farmers’ Market at Epic the crowds seem to get bigger by the week with the demand for fresh organic fruit and veggies. 

Balanced against this are figures in the “AgJournal” that Australian households throw away 2.5 million tonnes of edible food every year. 

On top of this, thanks to major supermarkets demanding perfect shape and uniformity of size of virtually every fruit and vegetable sold, 25 per cent of all veggies produced don’t leave the farm (including 31 per cent of carrots). 

These figures combined equate to a staggering $20 billion lost to the economy through food waste!

Reduce the lawn size and save water.

WATER bills will rise rapidly the longer we receive no rain, mainly in the garden. Firstly, lawns use a great deal of water, so to repeat previous advice, consider reducing lawn sizes and perhaps turn the area into growing veggies. 

Does the lawn really have to be mowed once a week? Let it grow longer, it will be softer for children to play on plus there are other savings such as mower fuel and pollution. Leave it for two or even three weeks between mowing, it will certainly need less water, but to get lawns growing strongly feeding is essential at this time. Rather than using organic pellets and waiting for them to dissolve (children, keep off the lawn!) use a liquid fertiliser.

To be effective, mulch should be 50-75 millimetres thick. Often tree surgeons offer mulch free or for a nominal charge. But be aware where the mulch came from, ie is it just from a particular tree? Or have the tree guys been clearing a garden full of weedy shrubs such as privet, cotoneaster or pyracantha? If so, that great, cheap mulch will soon start sprouting all those environmental weed seeds throughout your garden!


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Cedric Bryant
Trained horticulturist and garden designer with over 30 years experience in the industry.

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