Got back to the Scottish borders garden yesterday to find… Well, we grow one unnamed but very handsome Chinese paeony, shades of pink, verging to white, very double, very big. Almost too dramatic for the simple garden that it’s in.
It, and the ones down in the Lincolnshire garden, don’t really make good garden plants. Their habit is awkward, though the foliage is lovely. Making proper bushes, they die back sporadically, so there is always a dead branch or two. The magnificent flowers aren’t in the least weatherproof. In China, they’re mostly used as pot plants, brought indoors, or at least under shelter, whilst in flower – for delighted contemplation.
Curiously, though heavily double, with most of the anthers turned to petals, the ovaries always looked to me as if they could be fertilised. This season, with yellow flowered and 7ft tall Paeonia lutea and the herbaceous scarlet P. peregrina being in flower at the same time as the Chinese one (usually classified as forms of P. suffruticosa), I had a bash, brushing anthers of those two against the velvety styles of the male sterile one.
Seed pods began to swell. They do anyway in quite a few paeonies. Most split open to reveal sterile seeds in shades of soft pink (Paeonia veitchii), or wild cerise (P. mlokosewitchii – which does have occasional fertile seed in glossy black).
Paeony seed will only germinate after one, sometimes two, winters outdoors. They also seem to prefer open ground – I’ve never managed to germinate Paeonia lutea in pots, though seedlings germinate perfectly happily in the lawn, of wherever the huge black seeds fall. Seeds of herbaceous species are much easier, doing happily in pots, and needing only one winter. I don’t know what to do with this new, and exciting, seed batch. Perhaps I’ll split the quantity in two, trying one batch in the soil of an out-of-the-way part of the garden, the other in an earthenware pan.
The seeds, whilst still in the pod, where covered in some sort of pale gummy fluid. I might soak the seeds first, in case that’s some sort of germination inhibitor. If I get seedlings, it will then be a wait of several growing seasons before the first brand new flowers come…. The most like cross will be with Paeonia lutea. Be great fun it one of the seedlings had that species vigour or growth, and nice large double yellow flowers. Yum.