Peony Love

PathSpring is finally here after a long slough through dark, dismal weather.

Each day dawns radiant with new life. A little rain in the night, propelled us forward mightily.The trees show signs that luxuriant leaves are soon to come –  its been a long wait.

The cherry trees are dreamy concoctions of  pink and white. The magnolias have shed their fuzzy sheaths, on the brink of stealing all the attention, like the most gaudy bonnet in the Easter Parade.

There is so much to do in the garden, in case you’ve been wondering where I’ve been!

My pockets are stuffed with twine, clippers, and seed packets, as I wander from one task to the next. Today, the peonies are calling out to me.

I still haven’t found a great way to stake them. Last summer, while in Vermont, I noticed outside the Woodstock Inn, the peonies were standing at attention, heads held high, not collapsing under the weight of their flowers like mine. Snooping beneath their foliage, I found each one wrapped in a ring of chicken wire.

This morning I went on the internet to learn how other people stake peonies. Martha (ahem, Stewart) has a video how-to… she is a wonderful teacher. As usual she makes it look so simple. She places 2′ stakes around each peony as it emerges from the earth, then using twine, creates a cat’s cradle, criss-crossing the twine back and forth across the center, to create a web that the peony grows through.

So, today became ‘love up the peonies day’.

I went out to the garden, stocked with twine, stakes, fertilizer, wood ash, clippers and trowel, (and dogs – the best gardening companions). Half the battle with any job is having what you need at the outset so you don’t have to run to the nursery or garage for supplies. It has taken me a long life to learn this. The smallest distraction, and I flit to the next task.

I call this lovin’ up the peonies, because you have to get down in the dirt with them, scratch around their tender shoots, and shore them up with support.

Peony Stems

I begin by cutting back any remnants of last years dried stems because they might harbor disease.   Then I scratch away any excess dirt or mulch that might have spread over the peony during the winter, and pull out any weeds.

My peonies run along the fence outside the vegetable garden, so I just go from one plant to the next, just clipping back the old stems, weeding, and pulling away the mulch, before going back to the first plant in the row and starting step two.

Wood Ash

Step two: take a trowel full of wood ash saved from the fireplace, and spread it around the base, and a handful of balanced fertilizer and scratch it in with your (gloved) fingers. You don’t want to break off any new growth like I did a couple times.

Now you’re ready to stake. Martha uses 2′ stakes but I prefer 3′ stakes because they’re stouter and I want the extra length. I can always cut back any that show once the peony has grow up. Six or seven stakes need to be pushed in the ground around the perimeter of each plant.

Using a long length of twine, tie it about 6″ from the soil on the first stake and begin by looping the twine around each stake on the perimeter before making your cat’s cradle. Remembering back to crafts class in summer camp, criss-cross the twine back and forth between the stakes making your cat’s cradle. You want to create several tiers, so as the plant grows up, it finds its way through the web and will be well supported. All this sounds more time consuming and difficult than it is.

Some of my peonies have already unfurled their leaves too far for this method, so I will try the chicken wire around each one of these, and let them grow through that.

Staked Peony

Whew! I’ve done my job, now we have to wait till June to see how they perform. Here is one all trussed up.

I was talking to a wonderful gardener the other day who raises chickens. I asked her if her garden had improved since she’s had the chicken’s au natural fertilizer. She told me that her tomatoes grow trunks like trees, with fruits that are sublime, and her peonies need no staking apparatus . Wow, where can I get some of that!

I’d love to have chickens but my Lilly would be like a bear set free in a salmon farm. The poor chickens would die of fright at her relentless sniffing and skulking around the hen house, half-crazed and licking her chops.

She has succeeded in getting out a ‘no trespassing’ message to the local squirrels.  Now she’s busy working to route out the chipmunk population.


We have to wait until June to see how the peonies fare, but right now the tulips are a happy sight.

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One Response to Peony Love

  1. Annmarie G. says:

    Wow, Perry, you may just turn me into a gardener! I love the peony tips, and the visuals are a great helper for those of us who like to actually see what you’re describing. I too love the sight of the tulips that are finally starting to show off their colors around town.

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