On a Chalk Hillside August 2023, Peonies – which one is which! And late spring/summer garden jobs

Published: 17th August 2023

On a garden visit, I was idly wandering along a bed of herbaceous peonies during the heat of later June this year and suddenly was struck at how many of those flowering at that time were white. I associate peonies flowering with May and early June, and thinking about it, those seem not to be predominantly white from memory. Then I was struck by how very similar a couple of them seemed – could I tell the difference? (No was the answer, but I shall show you the photos and you can decide if you can).
A wide shot, then a close-up of ‘Duchesse De Nemours':-

duchess denemours

Then Paeonia Lactiflora ‘Emperor Of India':-


Examining the ‘close up' photos closely I think Emperor of India is a looser double but only marginally. Not something I was aware of “in the flesh” whilst looking at the plants in the ground. In a garden setting, I think one double white peony bush would be plenty for a garden as there are so many other colours and flower shapes to choose from as well unless you had a HUGE garden.
The next peony though, is very different in flower shape, and I love the coloured central parts of the flower – what will become the seed pods – Paeonia Lactiflora ‘Ballerina':-


It certainly resembles Paeonia Bowl of Beauty in flower shape more doesn't it:-


And I found Bowl of Cream (Also looking white to my eyes!):-


Another white peony which is more of a single flower shape is Paeonia lactiflora ‘Jan Van Leeuwen':


In the extremely bright hot sun, to my eyes even ‘Sarah Bernhardt' looked almost white, though I am glad to say the camera could see she looked slightly more pink – though not as pink as she used to look in my London front garden!:-


You should be able to see from many of these photos that this garden had used chunky round brown supports that get put over the crown of the plant early in the season to allow the peony to grow through as a way of more naturally supporting these very heavy flowers. I had seen a Sarah Bernhardt peony growing in another garden the day before which was not staked, and whilst the leaves were standing up proudly, the huge flower heads were bent to the ground.

I am not good at proactively staking plants (and I don't run to posh premade rounds), but I do have some wavey short metal supports for geraniums that every year I intend to put in BEFORE the plants spill out over the path, and every year am firefighting trussing them up when he complains he can't get down the path. The extreme heat and drought this spring has meant shorter growth on the geraniums, and they were therefore flopping freely til mid-July!!

unfettered geraniums

I've introduced one spring/summer garden job there – staking – so let's consider what else I've been doing.
Planting out the tomatoes in the polytunnel and greenhouse at the beginning of June:-


Digging out a wheelbarrow of compost from our compost bin to mix with the bought multipurpose compost to pot the tomatoes up in elicited a rather annoyed resident who had been disturbed, and who I had to rehome:-

slowworm 1

AND when I picked up the pots of tomatoes in the greenhouse to pot on into their big pots I disturbed another resident!!:-


This newt was rehomed in the marginal plants of the pond.

We concentrated on getting the veg beds ready/veg planted out in May, so were following ‘no mow May' inadvertently – the drought meant that the grass grew tall but wispy, and the wild flowers were very colourful indeed. We certainly looked like we were on trend with Chelsea!!
The Dactylorhiza Fuschii orchids in the Pilosella Officinarum (Mouse eared Hawkweed) on 9.6:-


And looking the other way – Viper's Bugloss () with the Pilosella officinarum (Mouse eared Hawkweed):-


Starting to weed the veg beds in early May there was still moisture in the ground from the wet spring, so it was easy to pull weeds, and get to deeper roots, but the drought, cold east wind and hot sun (the veg garden is sheltered from the east winds by fences and very tall trees, so is a sun trap), meant the ground dried out by mid May to a more concrete-like consistency making weeding much more effortful. The beans (one double row of runner beans, two double rows of climbing French beans were planted out without trenching this year due to our health situation.

It will be interesting to see if there is a difference in production – all they have had is some manure into the planting hole as each bean plant in its toilet roll inner tube was put in. Normally there is a 40cm deep 60 cm wide trench with garden compost/grass mowings/newspaper/chicken pellets layered in with the poor soil to help with water retention and nutrition into which the double row is planted. Both the tomatoes and beans were planted out later than usual as the weather in May was not just dry, but with the cold east wind having a large diurnal range (ie cold nights) until early June. Normally when they are planted we then have strong winds and they sulk, this year at least it was still, dry and hot:-

beans planted

I always consider it “summer” gardening when I never leave the house without pockets full of string for tying up. I get through a lot of string tieing up tomatoes, beans, climbers to pergolas etc. I use precut lengths of jute that were the offcuts of a Victorian rope making “factory” in Hawes, which they were selling in 3kg bags when we visited many years ago. They are therefore small bundles (maybe 30-35 pieces) bound together at one end, and each bundle a slightly different length but between 12-15cm. Ideal for tying beans to canes, or tomatoes to canes, not long enough for tying the roses to the trellis etc. But it makes it much quicker to tie up 66 tomatoes in a polytunnel, or 120 beans to sticks in one go without having to individually cut each length of string with scissors.


(Next month I shall talk more about tying up jobs in the summer.) Obviously, a never-ending job is deadheading – here a quick snap of a spent rose:-


But also a “job” is continually cutting the sweet peas to ensure they flower more, and bringing the scented blooms into the house to put in their special vases. I picked the first sweet peas on 22 June this year. Here's a photo from early July to show you the full range of blooms I grew (Lady Salisbury – a fragrant white flower – and Spencer Mixed), and I can confirm they smell FANTASTIC:-


The eagle eyed amongst you will notice that there are several curly-stemmed flowers in here – unlike “serious” sweet pea growers, another spring/summer job I DON'T do, is taking all the tendrils off the plants, and tieing them into the netting. Once they have started to cling to the netting, they are on their own as far as support is concerned. This means I do get some very bendy flower stems – which I drape artistically over the vase!!
Weeding is obviously ongoing – especially as if you turn your back the bindweed makes a break for the skies, throttling your plants in the process. Here, just to be varied, himself is helpfully unravelling some bindweed from a flower stem in someone else's garden – we can't help ourselves!:-


I've mentioned no mow May a couple of times, but we were not able to push our petrol mower this year, so he invested in a “lighter” battery operated one – which weighs the same as a bag of cement, so light is a relative term and is still too much for me to push up hill. The plus is that the batteries run out after two to three hods full of grass clippings, so we can't over do it! Here he is on his second cut of the summer on 21 June:-


Mowing means bulk composting – all those clippings get mixed with cardboard and scrunched up newspaper in the compost bins, (my job whilst he mows, I collect the clippings and scrunch the paper, and mix it all up.) The compost heap gets very hot very quickly if done in bulk, with some moisture still in the grass. I've scraped the top layer off a few days later to show you progress:-


I'll break there in the catalogue of summer jobs, and continue next month with more summer gardening jobs – especially tieing up and staking jobs.

Sheila May