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Garden Journal

Single-petal peonies offer gardeners variety of colors

By Paul Barbano | Sep 18, 2013
Yellow stamens make a charming accent in the center of the bloom.

We have all seen curio cabinets filled with bric-a-brac. The word curio is just a shortened form of “curious.” Gardeners are a curious bunch. We often have at least one spot filled with bric-a-brac, from the obsolete French à bric et à brac meaning at random, any old way.

There is luckily a plant that is itself bric-a-brac, a stunning single-flowered peony with twisted and fringed petals in ivory streaked with green and red. Like all good peonies this one has a delightful fragrance. And like all bric-a-brac, no two blooms are alike.

Bric-a-brac peony grows about 2 feet high and up to 3 feet wide. Single-petaled peonies are a nice change from the fluffy powder puffs we are used to. As a bonus, they tend to bloom a week or two before more common peonies, so you extend the season. Because their flowers aren’t as heavy as double peonies, single peonies usually stand up by themselves without cages or stakes that regular peonies often need.

The simple peony Coral Sunset has ruffled, semidouble blossoms with a deep coral overlaid with rose that gradually matures to a light apricot. The warm yellow stamens make a charming accent in the center of the bloom. This is a lightly fragrant and very vigorous grower.

Bowl of Beauty has ruffled hot pink outer petals that form a bowl around contrasting soft yellow centers, making it one of the most striking peonies in the garden. The blooms are truly gigantic, up to 10 inches across on strong stems perfect for cutting.

For a bright red single peony try the aptly named Blaze. The 6-inch-wide, bright solid red, slightly ruffled outer petals form a bowl around brilliant yellow centers. Blaze is more heat tolerant than many peonies and grows 2 feet tall and 2 feet wide.

Athena is an ivory white single peony with contrasting raspberry red flares inside each petal. Athena blossoms contrast brilliantly with its crisp, very dark green foliage.

The list of good single peonies goes on and on, but whichever ones you choose to plant, fall is a good time to plant them. Choose a well-drained spot that gets full sun for at least 10 hours a day. Less sunlight can mean fewer or no flowers.

Dig peat moss or compost into the planting hole. Avoid low ground or anyplace that doesn’t drain well because wet soil can rot the peony roots.

You can add bonemeal or a good slow-acting organic fertilizer, but be careful the fertilizer doesn’t touch the roots or it can burn them.

Set the roots so that the buds or “eyes” are just an inch below the surface of the soil. If you plant them too deep, you may get many leaves but few flowers.

Water well after planting so any air pockets are removed. The first year you may want to lightly mulch them after the first hard frost. Be sure to remove the mulch in early spring so the peony shoots can emerge from the ground.

Single-petal peonies can live for decades with little or no care. They do well with spring bulbs such as daffodils and crocus. Or just let them be, as garden bric-a-brac.

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