Teenage Tree Peonies Update

I almost wrote ‘baby tree peonies’ for the title, but of course they aren’t babies anymore! It’s been four years since the seeds that were sown in 2016 germinated the following year; I wonder what age that is in Tree Peony Years? Last year of high school/freshman in college??

At the end of August 2020 they were all still in the west-facing bed outside my sunroom. Although the bed is slightly raised and slightly sloped, the soil here is quite heavy and not well drained (I suspect something to do with the construction of the sunroom, which was before my ownership time), and thus grows a marvelous assortment of mosses, algal crust, and the occasional liverwort, all year long. There used to be a row of spiraea here, which I evicted in November 2018 because spiraea is on my top 10 Least Favorite Plants list due to rampant reseeding. The tree peony seedlings were put here in June 2019; so, in this photo they had been here just over a year. Some small Japanese painted ferns had recently joined them, along the back edge.

In October 2020, I moved two of the three peonies to different locations because obviously this 10-ft-wide, 3-ft-deep bed would be too small for three full-grown tree peonies. At the same time, I finally got someone to prune back the ridiculously overgrown Kwanzan cherry that was shading this area from most of the afternoon sun and certainly not helping the soil dry out any. I didn’t realize until about a month ago that this bed is now in full sun from about 9:30 a.m. until almost 6 p.m. I am hoping that the emerging cherry foliage will keep the newly-installed astilbe and hostas from frying completely; I already rescued the Primula sieboldii and Ajuga ‘Bikun’ and placed both in an area of afternoon shade, because I could practically hear them screaming curses at me.

These photos were all taken at the end of April (2021.)

Athos didn’t move far from home; he’s about 10 feet away in the as-yet-unnamed Patio Bed #3, which also contains the tree peony ‘Kamata-Fuji’ that I bought from Cricket Hill in 2017 and which has flowered twice since. This bed is slightly raised and the soil is better than in the sunroom-west bed, but then almost anything would be. I decided that the smallest of the trio should get the “best” soil. Nevertheless, Athos has stayed true to his rather ascetic form and is still the smallest at 12” high and wide. He also has the lightest green foliage, even before being moved to his new digs which are in full sun all day.

His sibling Aramis went farther afield; he’s in my Four Seasons Bed which is at ground level; that means he must deal with my native dense and stony clay. Life is definitely not cushy here at all. Right now, his location is in sun for most of the day but does get some shifting shade in the early afternoon as the sun swings behind one of the large conifers. As the nearby Heptacodium miconoides (about 7 feet tall now, but skinny) gets bigger, Aramis will be more shaded but will still get sun for at least 6 hours per day during the growing season. His problem is going to be the quality of the soil but once he puts down a serious root system, he should be fine. He’s currently 16” high and wide, and looking quite pleased with himself.  There is a large clump of three came-with-the-house herbaceous peonies in the same bed – two of which are probably Festiva Maxima – for Aramis to aspire to someday be bigger than.


Now, Porthos is absolutely living up to his name! I have no idea why he is doing so well in a location which, by all logic and reason, he should despise. Peony guru Martin Page is very clear that tree peonies need well-drained soil, which this certainly is not. My three were all grown from P. rockii seed; this means they are Chinese tree peonies, which grow naturally (according to Page) in soil that “is often stony, but well drained and covered with scrub. That is the key to growing tree peonies.” Well, my soil is mega-stony but well-drained it is not; especially in this bed. The only planting bed that is even more poorly drained than this one is the one on the north-facing side of the sunroom wall; the ferns, dicentra, and Japanese forest grass love it there because the soil on that side is essentially cold muck all year long. This west side isn’t much better, which means Porthos should be muttering things like “Zut alors! Cette sol est épouvantable!” and complaining about his boots, er, roots always being muddy.

Yet there he is, all 28” (!!) high-and-wide of him, flexing his leaf-muscles and saying “Go ahead, punk; make my day!” This makes him the largest tree peony in my garden, being (at age four) already bigger than Kamata-Fuji who is definitely six – and possibly seven – years old but is currently a scant 20” high and wide. (That said, if I had not moved her three times in as many years, she would probably be a bit bigger.) Porthos would probably be even more hulking if I had not forgotten to cage him against the ravenous Abigail until January, and I found some branch ends bitten off at that time. But the big guy seems to have shrugged the damage off as lightly a Percheron would an annoying fly. No flower buds yet, but The Literature suggests that maybe next year will be the charm. If any of these three seedlings bloom for the first time next year, I have a hunch it will be Porthos. And if he is indeed the equivalent of college age, then he is most definitely on the school’s NCAA football team as a linebacker!

Timeline/posts about the baby teenage tree peonies:

First appearance (spring 2017)
Keeping them safe (summer 2017)
Winter drama (February 2018)
Getting into bed (summer 2019)

  2 comments for “Teenage Tree Peonies Update

  1. May 5, 2021 at 7:48 pm

    How plants adapt to specific sites can be a mystery – they like places they shouldn’t and sulk in places they should love. Sort of like some people I know.

  2. May 6, 2021 at 4:08 am

    Nice to see that your babies have grown into such beautiful young plants. I do hope they bloom for you next year. Mine didn’t produce a flower until their 6th year from seed. They get better and more floriferous each year and now at 11 years old they are the May stars of the garden.

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