One of our most beloved gardening friends, Roy Klehm of Klehm's Song Sparrow Farm (www.songsparrow.com), joined us today and demystified growing tree peonies and herbaceous peonies -- the latter of which his family has made a into life's work for four generations, in the Chicago area.
Though less familiar, perhaps, than their herbaceous cousins, the tree peonies, in particular, are real prizes of the flower garden, forming shrubby, woody-stemmed plants of 2 1/2 to 5 feet tall in about 5 to 8 years. The individual blossoms will reach 5-6 inches, and a mature plant can be positively covered with them. Martha grows them in her garden and likes to float a single bloom with just a few inches of stem attached in a bowl of water -- even one flower makes a spectacular display, if you can bear to part with it from the bush. Give the plants, which are hardy in zones 4-8, some light shade from the hot mid-day sun and protection from drying winds, particularly in winter. Many sources offer small, bare-root tree peonies, but the Klehms sell container-grown 2-to 4-year-old plants in 5-liter pots. Set them in the ground at the same level they were in the pot, says Roy, or a bit deeper. For a detailed how-to on tree peonies, visit the Encyclopedia of Plants on marthastewart.com.com.
Songsparrow Farm sells so many great plants, and as Roy pointed out there are some hot new items this spring, including many new colors of coneflower that aren't the familiar purple at all. Look for gold ones like 'Harvest Moon' and other sunny colors in the new trademarked Big Sky Series.