How does Your Garden Grow?

Tree peony bloom in the Grabell garden.

Louise Grabell

It’s hot and getting hotter. Don’t be one of those “complainers” I talk to so often. Complaints about winter being too cold or too wet. Now all I hear is it’s too hot. Stop complaining and remember why you moved to Shangri-la. As a gardener, I feel we are blessed with wonderful opportunities to beautify our estates with the most gorgeous blooming beauties you could imagine. My irises started blooming in March. My amaryllis appeared in April. My daylilies are getting ready for their display and so am I! But I have a little secret I’d like to share with those of you who miss one particular flower that you would never expect to be able to grow in the high desert.

Peonies! Yes, folks, you can grow peonies here. If I only knew this before I left the Northeast, I would have brought my gorgeous yellow-blooming tree peony with me. I took a picture of it, had it framed and hung it up thinking I would never see a peony again. But I learned that tree peonies can survive here and so I am growing one which is now in its third season. There is also a hybrid between regular and tree peonies that does just fine and that is the variety I am growing.

So, what’s the secret you ask? A bit of gardener’s abracadabra? It’s really simple: grow a peony in a location that is shaded by noon [approximately] and you will be just as amazed as I was. Of course, regular irrigation in the hot weather is also essential, but you knew that. You can order online and find a fabulous selection of tree peonies or the hybrid cross between tree and regular peonies. They are sold in a few garden centers that carry out-of-the-ordinary plants and I would make some calls before going shopping.

Because peonies have relatively delicate leaves that are broader and thinner than the type which can survive in the desert, you must keep this plant shaded from summer afternoon sunlight. The soil should be nicely amended so that it is reminiscent of the black soils we know from home. Plant your tree peony at the same depth it is in the container. If bare-root, plant only deep enough to cover the root. Peonies require a balanced perennial fertilizer, super-phosphate, or an organic fertilizer that is high in potassium. You can also feed peonies with a 5-10-5 or 10-10-10 granular fertilizer. Fertilizer is applied in late summer, long after blooms are finished. It will have to be watered in since there may be no rain at that time. DO NOT fertilize in the first year as new root shoots are growing and fertilizer can harm them. Go get a peony!

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Remember, nothing brings more tranquility to the heart than a beautiful garden.