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Prime Conditions Lead to Prime Specimen

This article was first published on 21 Nov 2012.

Paeonia delavayi

Paeonia delavayi

One of the key projects in the Rhododendron Dell in spring last year was the renovation of the Peony Border at the south end of the Cherry Walk. Straggly old witch hazels were removed, the border widened, a new selection of herbaceous perennials planted and some of the peonies rearranged.

Amongst the peonies was a small, self sown specimen of Paeonia delavayi which had appeared at the back of the border under the shade of Magnolia doltsopa. At that stage it was little more than a cluster of stems about 50cm tall with a few leaves attached. Now, having been shifted to the front of the border, with more light, better soil and improved drainage, it has at least doubled in size.

Peonies thrive in any moist fertile soil whether acid or alkaline, but good drainage is important, particularly for the shrubby types like P. delavayi.  The dramatic increase in size shows just how well struggling peonies can respond to improved soil conditions. Now that it is growing happily, it will mature into a wide spreading shrub up to about 1.6m tall, but if necessary, can be pruned hard to control any intrusion on neighbouring plants.

Not only has the Peony Border specimen increased in size, but it has also begun flowering quite freely. Compared to other shrubby peonies, P. delavayi has relatively small flowers, but they are a deep red, which along with the smoky coloured new foliage, look like hot coals and for me make this peony the one to plant.

Doug Thomson is curator of the Rhododendron Dell at Dunedin Botanic Garden.