Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

Stop the Flop: No-Stake Peonies

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Floppy peonies should be a thing of the past: it’s a disgrace they’re still being sold!

Ask any gardener and he’ll insist that peonies need staking. Yet that isn’t at all true. There are hundreds of peonies with sturdy stems that never need staking, even in windy or rainy weather. Why is it then that so many garden varieties are naturally floppy?

Call it “commercial inertia”. Garden centers still sell old-fashioned peonies from back in the 1890s and early 1900s. These were the first double peonies to reach the market and it would appear that no one at that time cared whether peonies were floppy or not. Hybridizers have had over a century to work on the problem and turn out stupendous peonies with sturdy stems, and they have done so by the hundreds, yet the old varieties are still the most widely sold.

That’s largely because old-fashioned floppy peonies are produced on a massive scale by underpaid workers in China, reaching North America at rock-bottom prices. Therefore garden centers can make a bigger profit from selling them instead of quality peonies produced in North America.

If your local garden center sells only junk peonies, why not get yours from a peony specialist? Most sell by mail-order, so you can get top-quality, non-floppy peonies no matter where you live. The better sources include hints about the peony’s stem in their descriptions: “sturdy stems”, “strong stems”, “no staking needed”, “good growth habit”, “Staking: no”, etc. And if you’re not sure, ask before you buy: these companies know their peonies and will be pleased to help.

Here are a few nurseries to try:

United States:
Contrary Mary’s Plants and Designs
Peony Farm
White Flower Farm

Canada:
Pivoinerie D’Aoust
Pivoines Capano
Parkland Perennials

Upright Peonies for Laidback Gardeners

Here are a few peonies with sturdy stems you just might find in a local garden center:

  • ‘Athena’

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
    ‘Bowl of Beauty”: just one example among hundreds of sturdily upright peonies.
  • ‘Alexander Woolcott’
  • ‘Big Ben’
  • ‘Blaze’
  • ‘Bowl of Beauty’
  • ‘Bride’s Dream’
  • ‘Buckeye Belle’
  • ‘Bu-te’
  • ‘Claire de Lune’
  • ‘Cora Louise’
  • ‘Coral ‘n Gold’
  • ‘Dandy Dan’
  • ‘Do Tell’
  • ‘Etched Salmon’
  • ‘First Arrival’
  • ‘Flame’
  • ‘Garden Treasure’
  • ‘Gay Paree’
  • ‘Gold Standard’
  • ‘Jacorma’
  • ‘Julia Rose’
  • ‘Krinkled White’
  • ‘Laura Dessert’
  • ‘Lavender’
  • ‘Le Charme’
  • ‘Mahogany’
  • ‘Nice Gal’
  • ‘Paula Fay’
  • ‘Pink Hawaiian Coral’
  • ‘Red Red Rose’
  • ‘Roselette’
  • ‘Roy Person’s Best Yellow’
  • ‘White Sands’

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. After studies at the University of Toronto and Laval University where he obtained his B.A. in modern languages in 1978, he succeeded in combining his language skills with his passion for gardening in a novel career as a garden writer and lecturer. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He is a regular contributor to and horticultural consultant for Fleurs, Plantes, Jardins garden magazine and has written for many other garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening, Rebecca’s Garden and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 50 other titles in English and French. He can be seen in Quebec on French-language television and was notably a regular collaborator for 7 years on the TV shows Fleurs et Jardins and Salut Bonjour Weekend. He is the President of the Garden Writers Association Foundation and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. An avid proponent of garden tourism, he has lead garden tours throughout Canada and to the gardens of over 30 countries over the last 30 years. He presently resides in Quebec City, Quebec.

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