June 10, 2012

Maine Gardener: Get ready for an explosion of stunning peonies


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He said that when David Moulton, who donated Gilsland Farm to Maine Audubon, was growing peonies, they were on the farm fields. When Maine Audubon took over, the fields reverted to woods, and the peonies looked a little odd under the trees. They are now in a separate peony bed.

The two basic types of peonies are herbaceous peonies and tree peonies.

Liberty stressed that tree peonies are not trees, but rather small shrubs that lose their leaves in winter. They have a woody stem that stays above the ground all year, and some can grow to about 6 feet tall.

Herbaceous peonies die back to the ground each fall, and for that reason can be planted next to driveways or walks without worrying about any damage from piled snow.

But herbaceous peonies, especially those with heavier double blossoms, often have to be staked or otherwise supported with any variety of peony support.

Nancy uses bamboo stakes and string on a lot of our peonies, and metallic supports on some of them. The metallic supports that she likes come in pieces shaped like upside-down Ls, which you push into the ground and connect through a metallic loop. You can use three of the L-shaped brackets on a small peony, but use more if the peony is large.

At Gilsland Farm, the peonies are grown in rows in several formal beds. Bittenbender puts two stakes at each end of a row and two stakes in the middle, and runs 12-gauge electric fence wire along the stakes to keep the peonies standing.

Liberty's home is at 23 Ohio St. in Bangor, and the Maine Peony Society requests a $2 donation from visitors. The money goes to a variety of nonprofit groups, including the Lyle Littlefield Garden at the University of Maine.

Gilsland Farm's extensive collection of peonies can be viewed at any time. The society's free Ice Cream Social and Peony Bloom is scheduled for 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday.

GARDENS are just beginning to look really wonderful now. Peonies are in bloom, as mentioned above, but it is the middle of June. And in Maine, that means it is peak time for flowering plants.

The eighth annual Secret Gardens of Portland Tour will be held from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday to benefit the Opportunity Alliance's Foster Grandparents and Senior Companion programs. 

Tickets cost $17.50 in advance at opportunityalliance.org, by calling 773-0202, or at Skillin's Greenhouse, O'Donal's or Big Sky Bread Co. They cost $20 the day of the show at tour headquarters at Reiche School. 

Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer who gardens in Cape Elizabeth, and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:



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