Wait and see: The joys of a slow-blooming peony


There are seven big buds on my peony "Sarah Bernhardt". I've just counted them. I've been waiting several whole summers for this. And you do wait a long time for peonies. You can occasionally find yourself feeling like the End Times will approach and the Sun and the Moon and the stars will all go dim before the peonies get themselves going. Here come the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse! Oh well, that's very inconvenient timing, because my "Bowl of Beauty" just decided to open.

While the peonies whiled away years to get their arses in gear, I've chopped back, pulled out, twined up. I've planted a pear tree, admired its blossom and then picked the first pears. I've turfed a lawn, mowed a lawn, reseeded a lawn and watched it grow painfully, a blade at a time. I've grown nasturtiums, and the following year seen them seed themselves. All this in the brief span of geological time it takes a peony to stop sulking.

Yet they arrive in flower. You buy them, perfectly covered in gigantic tea-cup-sized pink frills, balls of fun, and what you don't realise is that nursery owners have actual magical techniques for getting them to bloom and that once taken out of their enchanted pots and planted in your actual garden, peonies will languish, cheesed off about the move, for 72 months or so before they cheer up again. Frankly, mine have had a death wish since I acquired them and it's basically been like a four-year-old having a sulky tantrum till they were about nine.

But worth waiting for? Entirely. Grand bowls of flower, they are the most perfectly summery plant available to humanity. You can immediately start to tell where you're heading with these gals just by looking at the names. Take "Sarah Bernhardt" for a start. If you've read determined Francophile Julian Barnes' latest novel, Levels of Life (where she features as a character), you'll know that the Divine Sarah comes with all sorts of Alphonse Mucha naughtiness to spare. Appropriately, in a flowerbed, you can put Miss Bernhardt right alongside Monsieur Jules. "Monsieur Jules Elie" is a delicious pale-pink showstopper, though the flowers are often so huge that they have a tendency to bend the whole plant over.

And things get ever saucier. "Do Tell" invites confidences; "Angel Cheeks" suggests a more established intimacy. At that rate, the happy couple may never make it to "Bridal Gown".

While you wait for such excitement to evolve, you need to try hard to resist fiddling. Some books say that peonies will never flower if they are planted too "low". Yes, do not bring them low, I find myself saying in a Ralph Richardson voice. The level of the soil in the garden should match exactly the level of the soil in the pot you're planting them out of. Dampness is also not conducive. But apart from that, there seems little else you can do to chivvy them along. Perhaps they need feeding, I thought to myself circa 2011. I fed them. Nothing happened.

Weirdly, as it turns out, although these plants when in flower look like courtesans who must require constant attention, they are actually fairly low-maintenance. Peep into neglected gardens (one of my more niche interests) to see what's still flourishing despite the general neglect, and a deep-red peony will often be among the post-apocalyptic survivors camping out in the unkempt, unmown grass. Somehow, once installed, these troupers can still manage to put on a show.

As for Sarah and Jules, if they ever do make it to the church, I've got only one suggestion for the destination they must surely choose to ensure they have a perfect honeymoon: "Gay Paree".

In for a peony: four of the best

'Bowl of Beauty'

Peachy. Completely and totally. Perfectly arranged petals around some Crazy Horse showgirl feathers in the centre. £9.99

'Sarah Bernhardt'

Very very double, like layers and layers of can-can petticoat skirts, and knicker-pink in colour, to boot. £9.99

'Buckeye Belle'

A deep rose-red, with all the glamour of an American heiress just off the boat in Paris. £11.99

'Duchesse de Nemours'

Bridal white, with a cool French glamour that's difficult to resist. £9.99. All these peonies are on sale at crocus.co.uk for a limited period

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?