Learn how you can grow award-winning peonies in your own garden

For many British Columbians, peonies conjure up memories of sunny afternoons spent in our grandmother’s gardens. It says a lot that peonies continue to maintain their appeal across multiple generations in an age when gardening fads seem to come and go with the seasons.

It’s not hard to see why peonies remain so popular. They’re hardy, drought-tolerant, deer-resistant, adaptable to poor soils, and they can live upwards of 50 years, often outlasting the gardeners who planted them. And when you consider that their blooms come in a wide variety of styles and colours, the argument can be made that peonies may just be the perfect flowering plant for British Columbia gardens.

So then it’s no wonder that when the Castlegar Peony Society played host to the fourth annual Castlegar Peony Show this past June, their competition received more than 300 entries from local peony enthusiasts as well as amateur growers in the neighbouring communities of Creston, Grand Forks, Nakusp, Nelson, New Denver, Rossland, Thrums and Warfield.

So what, you may well ask, do peonies need to produce award-winning blooms? For starters, plenty of fertilizer so that their roots can store the nutrients necessary to produce strong stems and plentiful flowers. They also require lots of elbowroom to accommodate roots that can eventually span more than a metre. Well-drained soil and judicious applications of water are also recommended. While it may seem odd to water a plant with a sterling reputation for drought tolerance, doing so will result in faster growing and more robust blossoms.

peonyFor those of you considering growing peonies for the first time or, for that matter, expanding your existing collection, the varieties taking home top honours during the Castlegar Peony Show were the creamy yellow single flowering ‘Claire de Lune’, the semi-double ‘Coral Charm’, the pink Japanese ‘Do-Tell’, the deep red bomb ‘Red Charm’, the lemon yellow semi-double ‘High Noon’, the yellow semi-double to double ‘Bartzella’ and the white double ‘Duchess de Nemours’.

While some of these peonies can be found at your local garden centre, Castlegar Peony Show chair Holly Pender-Love notes that many of the exotic varieties need to be sourced from specialist nurseries. In British Columbia, those nurseries include Dutch Girl Peonies in Beasley, B.C. and Fraser’s Thimble Farms on Salt Spring Island.

Any British Columbia gardeners wishing to enter peonies into competition, seek recommendations from experts, or discover a wealth of exotic and not-so-exotic peony varieties should note that the Castlegar Peony Society has been chosen to host the Canadian Peony Society’s National Show that runs from June 21 to 23, 2019.