Gardening: In for a paeony

BOWLED OVER: Paeonia lactiflora ''Bowl of Beauty'.
BOWLED OVER: Paeonia lactiflora ''Bowl of Beauty'.
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This stunning flower will stand out in the crowd with a richly-scented spectacle. David Overend reports.

Summer is a time of riches in the garden when everywhere is filled with colour, form and fragrance. Flowers fight over who is the king, or queen, of the beds and borders.

And battling it out with the best is Paeonia lactiflora ‘Bowl of Beauty’, whose incredible pink flowers with a central core of tiny, strap-like petals have a stunning scent.

It’s one of the most popular of all paeonies, which is hardly surprising when you see one in its prime – great big, blowsy, beautiful, richly-coloured blooms which stand out from the crowd of run-of-the-mill herbaceous plants.

So looking ahead to autumn (sorry, it’s on its way), perhaps it’s worth considering planting one or more members of what can only be described as a spectacular family of plants.

While any rich, well-drained soil is acceptable, paeonies need plenty of sun and protection from wind and rain. A few days of a normal English summer will see their delicate blooms battered and blown apart.

But given the right conditions, peonies will make the most of them – in June and July their magnificent flowers, in an amazing array of colours, put all else to shame.

Planting requires a bit of preparation. Dig a deep hole when the soil is warm and damp, and mix in bonemeal and well-rotted manure. Place you paeony – bare-rooted specimens are preferable to those sold in containers (you can see just what you’re getting) – so that the buds on the plant are just a couple of inches below the soil. Water well and apply a mulch or organic matter.

Once planted, leave well alone. Paeonies are long-lived aristocrats of the herbaceous border and once they are position and growing happily, they hate to be disturbed.

Mulch heavily again in spring, water well in dry periods, stake the stems if they look likely to topple over, deadhead to encourage more blooms and, come autumn, cut down the whole plant to soil level.

After a few years, you can disturb the plant. Before you put it to bed for the winter, gently lift your by-now established paeony, and split the root ball with a very sharp knife, leaving half-a-dozen healthy buds on each piece. Dust with a fungicide and replant with the same care as you used when the original parent paeony was inserted into the earth.