Garden Photo of the Day

Do You Have a Favorite Peony? (Clare does)

Clare Oliva's garden in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey is lovely, and yes, she does have a favorite Peony. Do you?

"I've attached some pictures of "Peony Time" this year in northeast New Jersey. My husband and I started this garden in 2005. Our backyard was just a downward sloping square of grass in 2003 when we moved in. After having three level terraces with stone walls installed to give us usable gardening space on the slope (along with slate paths), we officially started creating our garden in 2005.  One of the first things we planted was a very long row of peonies along the stone walls on the 3rd level of the terraces. These peonies have gotten bigger and more beautiful each year and are now 10 years old. We have large metal cages around each plant (like tomato cages, only a bit taller and wider) which get completely hidden when the peonies grow through them. The cages do a great job of supporting the heavy blooms."

Late afternoon view of the garden in mid-spring. Globemaster alliums and lilies (not blooming yet) in the foreground. You can see the peonies along the rock wall in the distance.

Side garden path in mid-spring. Daylilies (not blooming yet) at the bottom of the rock wall. Rozanne geraniums (also not blooming yet) and peonies on the terrace on top of this wall. 

View looking down from the deck. From this view, you can see the three level terraces of the garden. On the top tier is the formal garden planted with wax begonias and lined with boxwoods. The second tier features Baths Pink dianthus at this time of year — they have really spread nicely. You can also see the peonies in bloom along the third tier.

My FAVORITE peony, 'Festiva Maxima'. In addition to beauty of the flowers, these blooms have the most magnificent fragrance.

Path through perennial beds. Perennial geranium cantabrigiense in left foreground, Karley Rose fountain grass long path on right side. Roses (Zephirine Drouhin) on arbor are just starting to bloom.

View of rock wall terrace with peonies. Note the three-foot chicken wire extension on the fence to keep the deer out!

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  1. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 06/24/2015

    Clare, I immediately recognized your garden from previous posts. Your peonies and hardscaping are unmistakeable and wonderful. Looks like your peonies had a banner year this spring. I inherited a peony when I moved into my house. It had been mowed down for a long time, but managed to survive. I resuscitated several plants out of massive, tree-like roots and I think they are Festiva Maxima: reliable, fragrant and beautiful! I have a similar peony that has yet to really take off: Carl G. Klehm. One of my favorites. Thanks for sending in an update.

    1. ClareRocky 06/25/2015

      Tim, you've got me curious about Carl G. Klehm. I will have to google that. Thanks!

      1. User avater
        Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 06/26/2015

        I've only had one flower on mine, but it is sumptuous! I've been leaning more toward singles lately, but this is as double that is so rich that I could not resist. It actually reminds me of big, soft, white cockatoo feathers!

  2. User avater
    meander_michaele 06/24/2015

    Clare, I am filled with so much admiration for every aspect of your beautiful grounds. You and your husband are reaping the rewards of all your careful planning in hardscape design and choice of plant material. Everything flows and intermingles so perfectly and, although there is no lack of bright colors, there seems to be an air of soothing serenity. I totally agree with you on the wonderful fragrance pf Festiva Maxima...I think it makes us all remember hugs from a beloved grandmother in days gone by.
    Tim, thanks for the reminder that we have seen this wonderful garden before. I miss the heads up that Michelle would include. This time I did a google search to revisit those pictures. Ah, yes, the delightful Parasol Lady surrounded by zinnias!

  3. perenniallycrazy 06/24/2015

    Welcome back Clare! We are happy you have returned and your (peony) garden looks even more magnificent than the last time. ( Everyone loves Festiva Maxima! I wish we could get whiff of your gardens. Have you planted other kinds of peonies too? Anyway, I hope you return with an update of your summer garden. Looks like there will be many more shows to come. Happy 4th (for next week)!

    1. GrannyMay 06/25/2015

      Thanks for providing this backward link Cherry! It saved a lot of search time.

  4. bellslady 06/25/2015

    Clare: I love all of the aspects of your garden and your use of plants that repeadedly perform without constant attention. Love the rocks and the gravel paths too! I tried to discern how your veggie beds were made...are they also stone? So neat and organized! Your gardens are stunning.

  5. NCYarden 06/25/2015

    Good morning, Clare. Absolutely fantastic. I like the terracing, a great way to make all that space more easily utilized, and wow, have you utilized it. It's beautiful, especially the massive rows of peonies - very striking. All the stones, particularly the boulders of the terrace wall, are such a structural delight. I sure would love to wander the paths. I really want those cat statues. How big are those...I can't quite tell from the perspective. The angle makes them look kinda towering (I"m sure an illusion), which would be super cool. Thank you for sharing.

  6. ClareRocky 06/25/2015

    Thanks everyone for the great feedback! I really appreciate it.
    NC Yarden, the cat statues you asked about are about 2 feet tall. We love cats and have a lot of cat statues around the garden.
    Bellslady, the raised beds in the vegetable garden that you asked about are constructed of interlocking plastic pieces that look like stone (Google "Rock Lock"). We've had them for more than 9 years now and they are holding up nicely.
    Perennially Crazy, we have MANY other types of peonies besides Festiva Maxima. (One of my other favorites is "Kansas") When we bought them 10 years ago, to save money we bought them as a "grab bag" without the types identified. It worked out well with lots of different colors and single/doubles.
    Meander1, Parasol Lady is still watching over the garden. In fact, you can see her on the left side in the second picture. We recently installed a "friend" for her (not in any of these pics) -- a metal sculpture of a fairy with an open skirt that we are growing a boxwood in. In about 3 years, her skirt should fully hide the metal frame.

    1. User avater
      meander_michaele 06/25/2015

      Ahh, yes, I spot her now, Clare...she's like an elegant Southern belle with her finery all neat and tidy...unlike me who us forever in gardening designated jeans that are allowed to get very dirty.

      1. ClareRocky 06/25/2015

        I hear you! My attire when in the garden is just like yours, Meander1!

    2. perenniallycrazy 06/25/2015

      Hi Clare. I am familiar with Kansas - she's also a bute.

      Peony Grab Bag - Gotta love that!

      1. ClareRocky 06/25/2015

        Yes, normally I steer clear of "grab bag" plants and like to choose specific colors and varieties, but in the case of these peonies, it worked out very well!

        1. perenniallycrazy 06/25/2015

          Lucky for all of us GPODers too!

  7. wGardens 06/25/2015

    An abundance of "eye candy" here. Oh my, how wonderful to have such an expansive garden~ all the terracing looks fabulous and the fragrance... heavenly, I am sure. I have a few peonies, my fave being "Do Tell", a variety that doesn't need support- and an exquisite pink bloom. A favorite tree peony is "Guardian of the Monastery". Thanks for sharing... and hope to see more photos throughout the season!

    1. ClareRocky 06/25/2015

      Margaret, I will have to look up "Do Tell" and "Guardian of the Monastery" -- I've never heard of them. I love getting ideas from other gardeners. Thank you!

  8. VikkiVA 06/25/2015

    All I can say is I would like to be buried in your garden! Seriously, these pictures remind me of Butchart Gardens in Victoria, BC. Glorious garden Clare. Peonies are the most magnificent of flowering plants. Yours are stunning and make such a statement planted along the rock wall. I'm off to find 'Festiva Maxima' to add to my small collection of peonies. Vikki in VA.

  9. user-4691082 06/25/2015

    Clare, it just reminds us of how important planning is. I've been gardening in my home for 25 years, although 5 years ago we hired someone to design and install the hardscapes and water feature. I designed my own plantings because that's where all the fun is! I can tell by your choices of plants that you are a researcher like myself. I love all of your peonies and want to see 'Rozanne' in bloom. More please!

  10. GrannyMay 06/25/2015

    Gorgeous peonies, Clare! I could never pick just one favourite peony, they are all so beautiful in so many different ways! Festiva Maxima might be my favourite in the double white, old-fashioned, fragrant category! Please do keep sharing as the other areas reach their peak too.

    On another subject, I am delighted to be able to enlarge these photos so that I can study the details properly. For those who might not know how to do that, try pressing CTRL and + at the same time, several times till you get to the size you want. Or, right-click on a photo and open it in a new window, which should open it in its larger size. (These suggestions might not work on all devices)

  11. katieerb 06/25/2015

    What a gorgeous garden, truly looks like a labor of love. I love the terraced look, makes the garden look so spacious.

  12. GrannyCC 06/25/2015

    Your Peonies are wonderful Clare as is your garden design. Love to see a picture of all the Daylilies in bloom. Such a lot of work to build those terraces. Enjoyed the view from the top. You would certainly get your exercise in your garden!

  13. user-7007327 06/25/2015

    I would love to stroll through your wonderful gardens.

  14. NWAgardener 06/25/2015

    Hello Clare - I love gardens from which I can get inspiration/ideas for my own garden and yours is a winner so thank you for the wonderful pictures and descriptions. I love all peonies, but I think my favorite in my own garden is 'Bartzella'. I tried to attach a picture, but got a message that the attachment was too large. :-(

    1. User avater
      meander_michaele 06/25/2015

      NWAgardener, 'Bartzella' is a newish one for me and I was so thrilled this year when the bloom count increased. This is a picture (I think) of it last year when I only had one flower.

      1. ClareRocky 06/25/2015

        Just beautiful! I'd love to try one of these! How tall do they get?

        1. User avater
          meander_michaele 06/26/2015

          I don't think it was any taller than 3 feet this spring...its second year with me. The stems were very sturdy which I appreciated since I'm not as disciplined as you are about having a good staking system. Sorry my picture ended up tech skills are limited and I'm often at the mercy of how things show up. The flower had a pleasing subtle fragrance...not in the same class as Festiva Maxima.

  15. wadeinthewater 06/25/2015

    Ahhh, Clare your gardens are gorgeous. I love the formality of the groomed boxwood hedges with the extravagance of the Peonies. I've been thinking of getting a few more and will look for some of your favs. You all started your garden about the same time we did, it's so fun to watch it emerge over the years. always a surprise, thanks for sharing with us. Please send more pictures as the daylilies emerge.

  16. user-7007140 06/25/2015

    This is a very peaceful garden to me. You have masses of color but there are also calm green oases. I can certainly appreciate the work that has gone into all of this and congratulate you on the great design. I love all the walkways and my absolute favorite is the vegetable garden! Everything is beautifully organized - it must be a joy to spend time here. Lovely. Great job, Clare.
    Thank you to the editor for posting all the pictures.

  17. ILfarmersdaughter 06/25/2015

    I am in heaven! How beautiful the whole garden is and I love your peonies. Also love the way you landscaped with the 3 tiers showing off the beauty of each plant. I bet your yard is gorgeous all year long. Thank you for sharing your photos.

  18. Spring_y 06/26/2015

    You have such a beautiful garden! You must be very proud of it and it shows in the care you take of it.

  19. thevioletfern 06/26/2015

    Oh my, I'm afraid I don't know where to submit my entrance fee ... so professional and outstanding! I love Baths Pink Dianthus - its fragrance and beautiful slate blue lances - and your favorite peony is now on my plant wish list - stunningly beautiful.

  20. foxglove12 06/27/2015

    Just beautiful! Love it all. I'm new to peonies. Would love to see a close up of the wire cages.

    1. ClareRocky 06/27/2015

      Thanks Lori. Here is a good picture of the peony cages:

      1. foxglove12 06/29/2015

        Ahhh. A picture tells a thousand words :) Great Idea. Thank you Clare.

  21. Cenepk10 06/29/2015

    New Jersey, Clare ? I thought I was in England !!!! Such a fantastic garden !!!! So beautifully laid out & glorious!!!!!!!!!

  22. GardeningRocks 06/29/2015

    Just beautiful Clare! Stunning now and I can see that it will be throughout the season with the plants that will be blooming when the peonies begin to fade. Marvelous!

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