When my siblings and I were young, we used to ask my mother: “Which one of us do you love the best?”
Her response was always disappointingly the same. “See my fingers?” she would say as she held up her hand, “Do I love one more than the other? No! I love them all the same!”
Well, of the many flowers I grow and love, this “Shimadaijin” tree peony would be my thumb, or maybe my pointer finger!
Although tree peonies tend to resent being moved, I couldn’t bear to leave this one behind when we moved from our first home in Charlottesville. I dug it up and transplanted it to our new garden, where it reigns supreme as the undisputed Empress of All the Land. I’ve ruthlessly hacked to pieces and uprooted a number of perfectly lovely plants that have had the temerity to encroach upon her territory.
The tree peony is:
- a drop-dead gorgeous diva – a gardener might sell her soul for this plant
- imperious – deer don’t dare take a nibble
- unabashedly flamboyant – those silky, over-the-top, fragrant blossoms can be up to 10″ across
- surprisingly low-maintenance – despite its glamorous appearance, this woody shrub doesn’t need pampering. Unlike the herbaceous peony, tree peony stems do not die back in the winter and should not be cut back.
- long-lived – a tree peony can live for decades
The beauty of tree peonies has inspired names as extravagant as the blossoms themselves. Here are a few of the more evocative ones:
Black Dragon Holds a Splendid Flower
Coiled Dragon in the Mist
Companion of Serenity
Cup of Shining Night
Flying Swallow in a Red Dress
Gold Sand in a Black Ocean
Green Dragon Lying on a Chinese Inkstone
Palace of the Purple Clouds
Princess Zhao Marries Beyond the Great Wall
Tipsy Imperial Concubine