Garden Photo of the Day

READER PHOTOS! Nancy’s tree peonies in New York

We have gardens all around our property, and each has a seating area of some sort.  This is a view of “the mound” – a circular area between the front of the house and the road beyond.  It has one of my favorite seating areas, under a big oak tree, with a view past the front door up the terraces behind our house where we have both vegetable and ornamental gardens.  The mound is anchored by two glorious Chinese tree peonies – 'Red Dragon in a Green Pool' on the left, and 'Phoenix White' on the right.  This year’s warm winter and early spring has brought an amazingly abundant display of blooms.  We’ve never had so many, and thanks to the dry, cool week we had, they’ve never lasted this long.   2 WAYS TO ENLARGE! Click directly on the photo to enlarge in a pop-up, or click HERE to see this image, larger, in a new browser window  
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Nancy Hallberg

I’ve always been intrigued, and at the same time wary of, tree peonies. They are no doubt drop-dead gorgeous, and I want one in my garden so badly, but they’re super expensive, and have a reputation for being a tad touchy. Hence, I steer clear, since my gardening method is to plant things, step back, and see what lives without any input from me. Hey–I’m just a humble garden editor–I make no claim of being an expert gardener or designer!

The blossoms are huge – about 8 inches across, and lightly fragrant.  (Herbaceous peonies are far more aromatic).  Here’s a closer look ‘Phoenix White’.
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Nancy Hallberg

The other day, I got a surprise email from Taunton’s very own guru of consumer marketing, Nancy Hallberg, who lives in Waccabuc, New York. Nancy’s pretty new at Taunton, so we haven’t had a chance to meet yet, but it turns out that she’s an avid gardener, and her tree peonies are amazing!

Here’s a closer look at ‘Red Dragon in a Green Pool’.
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Nancy Hallberg

Nancy says, “I am an avid, if imperfect, gardener.  My husband and I do both ornamentals and vegetables, and have gotten quite carried away with landscaping, terraces, etc.  This spring we’ve had an awesome display in some of our early gardens, with tree peonies, bleeding hearts, and deadnettle going crazy, among other plants.”

I’m so jealous, Nancy. They’re spectacular! Check out the captions on the photos for more info.

A trio of ‘Phoenix White’ blooms.
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Nancy Hallberg

Anybody got any insider tips on how to succeed with tree peonies? What do they need beyond the basics? Is it just a matter of luck to have the perfect conditions for them? I must know! 😉

We also have another pair of tree peonies flanking our front porch.  This view looks at the front from the bottom of the mound.  You can see the first terrace just beyond the peonies, which houses our herb garden, with a bank of cotoneasters and hydrangeas above.
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Nancy Hallberg
If you were able to peek a bit farther up, you’d also see another early season garden display – bleeding hearts and deadnettle in bloom all over a semi-shady spot halfway up the hill behind the house.  About 40% of the bleeding hearts you see were volunteers, seeding themselves from only 3 original plants.   They’re such wonderful springtime plants – blooming early, festooning large areas with their pink hearts like so many Chinese lanterns.
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Nancy Hallberg

****ATTENTION!! FREE STUFF ALERT!!**** (In case you didn’t see it yesterday, and the day before)
Hey all, I have a TON of gardening books (mostly on veggie gardening, Hot Topic #1 these days) laying around my office, sent to us from publishers hoping for reviews in the magazine. They’re all great, but we only have a tiny bit of room, and only once in a while, for reviews in the mag. While talking to my editor about it last week, we decided to spread the wealth. Sooooo…I’ll be randomly choosing two people each day from all of the people who to send me photos of their gardens (or their gardening travels) for the rest of this week to get a free book (my choice)! Email photos to me at [email protected]. No guarantee that I’ll post your photos on the blog (I explain why HERE (way down at the bottom)), but you’ll get a package in the mail in a couple of weeks. When you send in your photos, be sure to include your full contact info (and your username) and a description of the photos you’ve sent. Woohoo! Exciting, yes? I’ll announce all the winners sometime next week, since I’m out of the office most of this week. Now go dig out some photos, or drag your camera outside!

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  1. User avater
    meander_michaele 05/16/2012

    Tree peonies are almost decadently sumptuous...the blooms so large and lush! Yours are gorgeous. I love how you have mirrored the design and color scheme of your porch and your is understated and yet striking.

  2. cwheat000 05/16/2012

    Nancy, beautiful tree peonies. I have not seen those varieties before. For the record, I have not found tree peonies tricky to grow at all. I only have one yellow one,however I don't fuss with it at all. My mom has several and she too never feeds or fusses with them. Some varieties are quite pricey, but there are many reasonably priced ones that are still amazing. I got mine at an end of season sale for around 20 dollars. My only complaint is, their beauty is fleeting. They are worth a space in everyone's garden. If anyone is within driving distance to Litchfield County CT( that would be you Nancy), try within the next week to see the tree peony gardens of White Flower Farm in Litchfield,CT and Cricket Hill in Thomaston,CT. Amazing!

  3. PeonyFan 05/16/2012

    Beautiful photos, Nancy! Thank you. I don't know how far north Waccabuc (what a wonderful name!) is but here on the edge of Minneapolis, my tree peonies are in bloom, too. We are also having an early season. In my experience, tree peonies are undemanding. Six hours of sun and good drainage is all they've needed here. I've even transplanted large specimens and the little pieces that drop off become good-sized plants after a few years. Protection from the hottest afternoon sun will prolong the life of the flowers. Or you can use parasols to protect them during the blooming season as they growers at Cricket Hill do.

  4. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 05/16/2012

    Beautiful peonies, home, and I love the big stones (of course!). I echo the tree peony comments here. I have a 15 year old tree peony (yachiyo-tsubake, my user portrait) and it has been completely undemanding; dug up, put in a holding bed during some construction early on, and then put back. Likes being on the east side of our porch. Some morning sun. The flowers are smaller now that it has easily 100 flowers, but still a stunning spring time treat!

  5. pattyspencer 05/16/2012

    Just beautiful! I really like that each picture has a caption explaining it - thank you for that! I may have to look through my catalogs and see if I can find one that's affordable. Really pretty!!

  6. kzoocookie 05/16/2012

    Makes me wonder where I could squeeze one in -- beautiful flowers and leaves. The rock work is fabulous too, and not fleeting!

  7. codini 05/16/2012

    Tree peonies are actually not really difficult, but they do need support especially during our tough Connecticut winters. The huge October snowstorm last fall split my biggest one in half, although it is still alive, and ready to blossom. I've now staked and supported it all around. I too, try to buy mine at the end of the season, and the plants seem perfectly ok with that late planting. I also second cwheat000's comment about checking out White Flower Farm's collection, and to see a fabulous collection go to Cricket Hill in Thomaston, CT. They are amazing.

  8. Tiktok 05/16/2012

    Thanks all -- these peonies are in fact from Cricket Hill. We visited there about 5 years ago and were smitten. It took us a few years to find the best spots for these; a couple weren't happy where we first planted them and we lost one entirely, But these survivors are certainly thriving despite having been moved several times.

  9. tractor1 05/16/2012

    Wonderful stonework, obviously placed by machine... I especially love that huge stone path in the last picture. I'm also wondering about what looks like a fruit tree to the left in that last picture, what is it? And it appears that property is surrounded by deep forest, how are the deer etal. kept from feasting, I know deer don't eat peony but what about the others, here the deer will even eat bleeding heart. Think about having those utility lines buried, it'll look better, but one doesn't need the ensuing power outages from falling trees. Great job.

  10. Wife_Mother_Gardener 05/16/2012

    'Phoenix White' just so beautiful. I love it with your ground cover underneath.

    I just planted my first tree peony. Wish me luck!

  11. Katzpawz 05/16/2012

    Peonies of all types are some of my favorites; but they don't do well at all out here in the So. Cal. inland area. Too hot for them and no cold resting time. (and no big, black ants either!) I used to wander through old cemetery lots in late spring back in upstate NY to see the peonies and the lilacs. Sure do miss them.

  12. joycedaffodilhill 05/17/2012

    Lovely grounds and wonderful tree peonies. I wasn't sure what deadnettle was so looked it up to find we fight it like crazy considering it a weed! House and grounds exciting.

  13. plantlady57 05/17/2012

    Nancy, beautiful tree peonies. I have some in Ontario but they do not seem happy. Not sure if I should be giving them some winter protection or if they heed to be moved. They are in full sun and have no protection from the strong winds we seem to be getting more of. Would love to hear what conditions you found were not working and you moved them from......and what conditions they are now in.

    I also bought some more at the end of season last year. Can't wait.

    Amaxing grounds.

  14. Tiktok 05/17/2012

    @Tractor 1:
    The tree to the left is a standard hydrangea, which flowers midsummer with white pompoms. We actually have our gardens fenced, otherwise the deer would indeed lay waste to everything. Even so, we usually get one interloper each season who manages to breach our defenses and head for the hosta. And the stonework was done by a fellow named Orlando who is an artist with a backhoe. He's sculpted terraces and paths that create all sorts of outdoor rooms, gardens, and seating areas and is truly a wizard when it comes to putting just the right stone in the perfect place. We're very lucky to have found him! I'll submit some more photos later in the season, and if they pass muster, perhaps you'll get to see some more of his handiwork.

    PS -- we buried the utlility lines on our property. The ones you see in the photo are out on the road at the mercy of falling limbs -- the reason we also have a generator!

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