My parents grew up in a small town in Ohio and in those years, Decoration Day, as it was called then, was quite a celebration. There was always a parade with the high school band marching, a few small floats, kids riding bicycles and some marching units. For a small town, the turnout was large with people lining up on both sides of the main street. The parade always ended at the local cemetery and residents would decorate gravesites with flowers. Decoration Day officially became Memorial Day in 1967.
The flowers are what I remember most about this time. Almost all of the flowers were from home gardens and the flower of choice was the peony. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we are very fortunate to live with a climate that is ideal for growing peonies and many of the gardens that I visit have at least one peony plant and usually, there are several. My own garden is no exception and I cannot imagine my garden without peonies.
Peonies are very easy to grow and if you buy potted peonies now, they are ready to be planted in the ground. However, the best selection will be in the fall when the bare roots can be planted. Most peonies prefer a full sun location and good drainage. If your soil does not drain well, consider adding some pumice at the time of planting to improve drainage. Do not place more than two inches of soil over the ‘eyes’. A common mistake gardeners make is planting the root too deep and while the plant will grow, blooms will be sparse. Many peony growers have told me that peonies do not like to be transplanted, so select a location where your peony can grow and thrive without being moved.
There are several different types of peonies but the most popular and well known is the herbaceous or bush peony. These plants will usually bloom mid-May to about mid-June. Some peonies tend to be floppy and the flower stems will need to be staked. After flowering, leave the foliage on the plant until it becomes unsightly or until late summer/early fall when the stems can be cut off at soil level. Remove the cut foliage away from the plant to reduce the chance of disease.
There are many different herbaceous peonies to chose from but my favorite red is ‘Red Charm’ which I have had for many years. ‘Coral Charm’ is another favorite in my garden as is the multi-colored ‘Gay Paree’. For a pink, ‘Hermione’ is hard to beat.
This is a good time of year to visit other gardens and see peonies in bloom as rather than relying on a picture tag, you can see the real flower! If you live close to Salem, OR, this would be an ideal weekend to visit Adelman Peony Gardens, 5690 Brooklake Road NE, Salem, where you will see fields of blooming peonies. This is a great opportunity to see how the plants grow and flower in what would be a garden setting with them being exposed to wind, sun and rain. Not only do peonies create color and beauty in the garden, they make superb cut flowers and a bouquet would make a great addition to a Memorial Day table!