On the spur of the moment last Saturday I decided to take a roadtrip to Cricket Hill Garden in Thomaston, Connecticut (about a 2.5- to 3-hour drive each way.) Although the majority of their tree peonies are over by early June, I knew it was one of those things where if I didn’t go now it would be put off until next year. Besides, the nasty surprise case of poison ivy I’d contracted the weekend before had put a serious damper on my desire to do anything in the Temporary Garden for the moment!
Cricket Hill is located on about six acres within a residential neighborhood and is, like the best independent specialist nurseries, all about the plants. You won’t find a ‘shop’ selling garden tools, home décor items, giftware or the like. You won’t find pristinely weed-free beds and paths either, because this nursery uses no herbicides or chemical pesticides (which is a good thing.) What you will find is probably the best collection of intersectional and tree peony stock anywhere in the USA. This is a second-generation family business and it shows, in the best of ways.
As I’d expected, most of the tree peonies had already flowered but there was still more than enough for me to look at over the next couple of hours, between the intersectionals and mid/late blooming herbaceous selections. Perennials interplanted with the peonies along the terraced walkways (dotted with parasols to protect the blooms) include alliums, pulmonarias, hostas and a couple of truly statuesque Angelica gigas; I’d never seen that plant in person before and was duly impressed: I’m almost 5’6″ and had to look up at the flower umbel! But enough of my mitherings, let’s get to the photos.
This is one of three planted areas at Cricket Hill, and is the one closer to the small river that the nursery adjoins. The other peony area is closer to the road and first parking area, and across the driveway from their recently established “edibles” section. Both of the peony areas are either sloped or terraced, providing the good drainage that peonies prefer.
This mature Chinese tree peony ‘Snow Lotus’ is in the upper planting area. Although in my photo it doesn’t look especially massive, in reality it was as tall as I am and much wider: Supposedly this variety tops out at 6′ high and 5′ wide but from this photo angle the width was closer to seven feet. This particular plant has a marker but there were some for which I could not find a name, possibly because they were tagged on the inside of the plant rather than via an in-ground marker. I didn’t want to mess up the flowers by rooting around under or inside the plant, which is why there are some “unknown” images in this post.
This is ‘Leda’, a very pretty cross by Nassos Daphnis who typically names his hybrids after characters in Greek mythology. According to Martin Page’s excellent book on peonies, Leda’s parentage is 75% Moutan tree peony and 25% P. lutea hybrid, which would account for her later bloom time. Young plants typically bear single flowers but mature specimens bloom as semi-double, shown here.
‘Ruffled Sunset’ is another P. lutea hybrid; a few spots on the petals do not mar its beauty in the least.
A single massive bloom remained on ‘Souvenir de Maxime Cornu’ which is situated in a can’t-miss location along the access driveway. I’d read about the size of this flower but was still gobsmacked when seeing it in person, because it’s easily twice the size of my hand….which is in the photo not only to provide scale but to bring it into camera range. There’s no way that a flower this huge (6″-7″ diameter) can hold its’ head up without help. Naturally I want one of these eventually, even if I have to support every.single.stem with its own stake (which I probably will.) Definitely another plant to add to the “next-garden” list. Seriously, this must be the peony world’s version of the Brighton Pavilion!
Below are some other peonies that caught my eye along the paths.
I was especially intrigued by the coral pink with the narrow white star (first photo) although I do not know its name.
This unknown late tree peony is in the upper display area. The beds here are edged with rocks, usually the roundish grey type but the odd white stone(??) looked to me like a small figure of a man sitting dejectedly with his arms and head upon his knees. Doesn’t the peony bloom seem as if it’s looking directly at him and offering some words of comfort? It certainly is lovely enough to lift anyone’s spirits, even a ‘heart of stone.’
One of several groups of alliums, probably Allium giganteum, in the lower display garden (between the house and the river.)
The three fascinating glass sculptures were made by Mundy Hepburn, a glass artist from Old Saybrook who is the nephew of actress Katherine Hepburn. The tall pink sculpture is almost six feet high; the other group of three, on a lower terrace, is shorter.
This is Cricket Hill’s resident pest-control expert, Theo. He takes his job very seriously and is quite good at it. The nursery uses no chemical controls (herbicides, fungicides, or pesticides) and so he is an important part of their healthy ecosystem.
Theo’s coloring allows him to blend almost invisibly into the rocks edging beds and pathways, almost like a feline chameleon!
The sales area is adjacent to the hoop house; this photo shows approximately half of it. Some of the plants are in pots but most are in the special fabric root-control bags that are made specially for Cricket Hill. Because the peak tree peony bloom (and visitor rush) occurs in May, most of the plants for sale now are intersectionals and herbaceous varieties. The remaining tree peonies were mostly 1- and 2-year-old plants of the double red ‘Minister of Flowers’ (about seven or eight of those) and a flat of young P. rockii seedlings in 4″ pots. Given the fact that I don’t want to plant anything in the Temporary Garden, could I actually end up returning “plant-less”??
Nope. This single plant’s glamour-shot photo had me at first glance. There followed a brief consultation as to the advisability of the peony having to continue in its root-bag for another year, probably two, and possibly (ugh) even three while I continue my house-hunting but I was told that it should be fine up to that point. I responded that if I still hadn’t moved to another house by 2020, I myself would be in far worse shape than the peony! So into my car it went, fitting very nicely on the floor behind the driver’s seat, thankyouverymuch.
Upon researching the photo caption name “Kamata Wisteria” online I initially came up empty but eventually deduced that the actual name is Kamata-fuji (or alternately, Kamada-fuji), the English translation being roughly “Wisteria of Kamata”. So that mystery was solved. I also learned that although Japanese tree peonies in commerce are notorious for being sold under incorrect names, Cricket Hill guarantees that all the plants they sell are true to name, so any fears I may have had on that score were allayed.
Now of course the question became where to site the new acquisition, at least during the frost-free months; it will need to spend winters in the garage. The next day I determined that my front porch receives direct sun from early morning until roughly midday, after which it’s in shade; these are supposedly the ideal light conditions for tree peonies. Because the porch floor isn’t as free draining as I’d like, I’m on the hunt for a section of plastic or fiberlgass grate to place directly underneath the bag. Best of all, rabbits are unlikely to venture up the steps to the front porch and the area is free of slugs as well.
I know that I will be sorely tempted to revisit Cricket Hill next May during their peak tree peony bloom…. whether I’ve found my next house/garden by then or not!