Tree peonies have some of the most sumptuous flowers of all shrubs, both in shape and colour. This variety, lutea, produces relatively simple, saucer-shaped, vivid golden-yellow blooms up to 5ins across in late spring. It can be a shy little flower and its blooms are fleeting, but that only adds to their enchantment.
All Tree peonies have foliage to die for, but the leaves of lutea have particular quality and would be worth growing even if not accompanied by flowers. Up to 10ins long, deeply cut and of the freshest green, they are held lightly on the branches, so that they move with every faint breeze.
They will thrive in sun or brighten a partially shady corner where they are a good contrast to more sombre evergreen shrubs. In time, they will make a broad shrub about 6ft high and they like their feet in rich, moist soil (although mine has thrived and flowered for eight years in too small a pot and with only an occasional feed).
The Tree peony has an informal air and looks well underplanted with ferns. Dryopteris filix-mas (the Male fern), makes a good companion. This British native survives in just about any position, although it prefers damp shade. It is probably the most common fern in the British countryside, and the likely source of ancient beliefs that fern spores have the power to make anyone who carries them invisible. In spring, its elegantly arching fronds unfurl from a large brown stump to form a shuttlecock of lance-shaped leaves about 4ft high.
In among the ferns, try planting the woodland perennial Brunnera macrophylla. Its broad, heart-shaped, hairy leaves make a fine contrast to the lacy fern fronds and are excellent ground cover. In this variety, known as "Hadspen Cream", the foliage is edged with a creamy white margin.
This trouble-free plant (also known as Siberian bugloss), reaches about 2ft high. In spring, it produces delicate sprays of purple-blue flowers resembling forget-me-nots, after which its leaves enlarge in size. Like its two neighbours, it will be happy in light shade and moist soil.
John the Gardener
plant of the moment
Nurture this climbing plant and how does it repay you? By heading for next door's garden
At this time of the year, early flowering clematis is making massive clouds of blossom on walls and roofs. Sadly, however, it is often not your own particular wall or roof that your clematis chooses to flower on; with an extreme perversity that is matched by many other climbing plants, clematis often chooses to leave home. You buy it, plant it, water it, feed it and it scrambles up the fence and into next door's garden, where they get the full benefit. (Meanwhile, their aphid-ridden, scabby old honeysuckle or whatever is probably deciding it prefers your side of the divide.) You will have to decide whether to pronounce it clematis or clematis. Clematis seems slightly posher. Hester LaceyReuse content