If a garden has room for only one plant, my choice would be a peony. It is the state flower of Indiana; it is reliable; and it has spectacular flowers with long-lasting blooms of dark red, yellow, white and many shades of pink. An individual peony plant has been known to bloom for more than 100 years.
Our garden contains some vintage plants given to us by Robert Cramer, former academic dean at the University of Indianapolis. His family sold peony bouquets on Memorial Day in Terre Haute.
Peonies come back year after year but dislike being transplanted to a different spot in the garden. It is important to plant them in enriched soil. Full sun is preferred, as is some protection from high winds.
When planting a peony, dig at least 18 inches deep and wide and add amendments (organic soil or compost). September is the best time to plant, and remember to water the new plant each week. Some winter protection is important. Straw is appropriate but should be removed in early spring. The plant may not bloom the first year.
When the ground begins to freeze in the winter, cut the plant to ground level and pick up any fallen peony leaves, which can harbor diseases that may affect your plant the following year.
Legend has it that there was once a time when peonies were only grown in the gardens of the emperor of China. This may be true because the peony is a superior, imperial plant.
“There is little risk in becoming overly proud of
one’s garden because gardening by its very nature is
humbling. It has a way of keeping you on your knees.”