Carsten Burkhardt's Web Project Paeonia - The Peony Library

index 0602


The Manual of the American Peony Society


Copyright 1928 by American Peony Society


By James Boyd

IT HARDLY seems necessary to give advice in regard to planting, cultivating, and fertilizing the peony, because those subjects are so generally treated in the catalogues of all the principal growers throughout the country. Perhaps, however, the experience of one who has grown peonies for twenty-eight years may be of some value.


I have bought from many growers throughout the country, have purchased thousands of roots, and do not believe that I have ever been intentionally deceived by any grower. Of course, plants have been occasionally received under the wrong label, but I believe that this was due to mistakes or carelessness and not to trickery.

It is advisable to visit the gardens of the grower from whom one intends to purchase, if possible, and to note his care in keeping his field labels in good condition, and his system for numbering, naming, and registering in his stockbook or on his stock-cards. If a grower prints a careless catalogue or price-list, misspelling the names and making various mistakes in his printed matter, he is likely to be careless in his garden methods and therefore not a desirable grower to purchase from. The amateur will learn to purchase a rare and expensive variety only from a man who is careful and accurate in all details. If one is unable to visit gardens, he may form an impression from printed catalogue or price list. Carelessness and inaccuracy in one generally denote the same failings in the other. Extravagant descriptions of known varieties make one doubt the praise of those unknown.

The strong division having from three to five eyes, and cut from two-, three-, and four-year-old plants, is the best investment for a heavy clay soil. It is true that divisions with only one or two eyes will grow successfully in some soils and produce good bloom in the course of two or three years but, as a rule, a purchaser desires to get good bloom as quickly as possible, and therefore, the standard division, having three to five eyes, is strongly recommended.

A high price does not necessarily mean a fine peony, nor does a low price denote plants of little value, Supply and demand


160a_plate 22_marie jacquin

plate XXII. Marie Jacquin

161_planting and cultivating



are large factors in regulating prices. A new peony of moderate merit may for a short time command a higher price than is asked for an older one of far greater merit.

The symposium figures denote the rating of value accorded by the American Peony Society. They have been carefully compiled from many lists sent in by members all over the country. The valuation is on a scale of 10, in which a grade of 10.0 would represent the highest excellence or absolute perfection in both plant and bloom; 9.0 shows very high quality, but not the highest; 8.5 denotes an exceedingly good variety; and even 8.0 shows high quality. Between 8.0 and 7.5 are a few very good peonies, but there have been so many excellent varieties introduced in the last few years that a peony rated below 7.5 certainly is not worth purchasing, and the American Peony Society recommends that they be discarded from all commercial lists.

Some growers, however, continue to offer these discarded varieties in order to unload stocks that were accumulated years ago—instead of putting these inferior varieties on the dump-pile they list them with unwarranted praise and try to dispose of them at the public's expense.

In forming a collection, a grower should seek quality rather than quantity. It is advisable to buy from the man who offers not over two to three hundred varieties of high quality, which he grows with care in labeling and listing, rather than from the man who claims to have over a thousand varieties, and who necessarily must give a considerable portion of his time to cultivating, labeling, and listing worthless stock. If he does not cultivate, carefully label, and list his worthless stock, the buyer is likely to get some of it when ordering good stock.

If I were asked to name the twelve best herbaceous peonies offered in America today, I believe the list would be as follows:

Alice Harding Philippe Rivpire

Kelway's Glorious President Wilson

Le Cygne Solange

Mme. Jules Dessert Therese

Mrs. A. M. Brand Tourangelle

Mrs. Edward Harding Walter Faxon

All of these have a symposium rating better than 9.0 and they certainly make a grand collection. There is only one red variety (Philippe Rivoire) included, but this is, without doubt, the best that has been introduced to date.




I should name the following as the best low-priced dozen:

Albert Crousse Festiva Maxima

Avalanche La Perle

Baroness Schroeder Mme. Emile Lemoine

Claire Dubois Mons. Jules Elie

Eugenie Verdier Octavie Demay

F£hx Crousse Venus

This includes one red peony (Felix Crousse). They have an average rating better than 8.7 and are bound to give great satisfaction. All are very beautiful and the entire collection can be purchased from reputable dealers at less than an average of $1.50 each.

Planting and Cultivating.

It is advisable to prepare for planting in advance. The ground should be deeply dug. If possible, soil should be thrown out to a depth of i^ to 2 feet and then thrown back again. This is not practicable with a very large planting, and in such cases the ground should be plowed deeply and the soil allowed to settle well before the peonies are planted. A few heavy showers will bring the soil down to the desired level, and the roots should be carefully planted with the topmost eye from

2 to 3 inches below the surface. If the soil is light and friable,

3 inches is the proper depth, but if it is heavy clay, 2 inches is sufficient. A handful of bone-meal mixed with the soil at the time of planting is sufficient fertilizer for each peony.

The planting should be done preferably between September i and the time the ground freezes. After the ground is frozen, it is advisable to cover with a mulch of leaves, corn-stalks, or such material to prevent it from thawing in the winter. The mulch is to prevent the plants from being heaved by the frost and will not be necessary after the first winter. In the spring, sheep-manure will improve the growth and bloom; not over a trowel-ful should be used around each healthy plant.

Peonies may also be planted in the early spring but it is better not to disturb the old plant at that time of the year. Stock dug the previous fall and kept in cold storage over winter can be planted in the spring with very satisfactory results.

When the plants start to grow, they should be cultivated as deeply as possible, and cultivation continued at frequent intervals until after the blooming season. The more cultivation,




the better bloom. This and proper disbudding are two essential factors in securing exhibition flowers.

Disbud as soon as the buds are formed, allowing only the terminal buds to develop. This, it is understood, is for exhibition bloom, but if quantity is desired rather than quality, some of the lateral buds may be allowed to develop. I always disbud every plant in my garden. The ants that gather on the buds come for the syrup which exudes from the bud and disappear when the bud opens, doing no harm.

In a very dry season it is sometimes advisable to apply water to the roots if fine flowers are desired, and some growers advise the use of liquid cow-manure in order to obtain prize-winning bloom. I have tried it and have also used a small quantity of nitrate of soda, but this is rather dangerous and should only be used with great care. I have also used Stim-U-planT tablets with very satisfactory results. Do not use stable manure in any way at any time, and remember that a little bone-meal in the fall, and frequent cultivation during the spring, will give fine flowers without additional fertilizers of any kind. After plants bloom it is always advisable to cultivate occasionally to keep the weeds down and the garden clean.


If one has purchased fine varieties of peonies and planted them with care, he certainly wishes to know their names when they bloom, so a suitable label is very necessary. I believe I have tried about everything that has been offered in the label line in the last ten or fifteen years, but my taste and requirements may not be like those of other growers. For peonies, I want a label attached to a rod at least 2 feet above the soil and not less than 12 inches in the ground. In other words, I require a steel rod 3 feet long with an eye bent in the end. The eye should be tightly closed so that the small copper wire, by which the label is attached, cannot escape. These rods should be at least one-quarter of an inch in diameter and should be galvanized after the eye is bent so as to seal the opening tightly. On heavy clay soil, the label must be at least 18 inches above the ground; otherwise heavy showers so spatter it that it cannot be read.

About five years ago I was able to secure a lot of copper-coated rods and have found them far superior to galvanized rods. In fact, they are as good today as when purchased, but,




unfortunately, the concern which made them is now out of business, and I have been unable to secure any more. I find there is a great difference in galvanizing, and I advise obtaining the best possible, otherwise the rods will rust and corrode in a year or two. Do not be persuaded to use a rod with a hole punched in the flattened end for the wire. They are much too dangerous, particularly if partially hidden by the leaves and one stoops to examine the bloom or to enjoy its fragrance.

For labels, I have tried paper, wood, zinc, copper, and, best of all, a material called "Aquaproof." This is white, smooth, and light. It should be printed with "Higgins" Indelible Ink;" I prefer this to the ink supplied by the label-maker. The black letters on the white ground enable one to see the name as he passes along, and yet they are inconspicuous. I use labels 3 and 4 inches long and >£inch wide. This label has holes punched in the top and bottom and is attached to the rod by two light copper wires 3 inches long. The double attachment prevents it from blowing in the wind and keeps it always in a readable position.

Paper labels last only one or two seasons. Wooden labels become dark and illegible. Zinc labels corrode around the letters and also become indistinct. Copper labels, written upon with a stylus, do very well if the writing has white lead rubbed into the marking—otherwise they become unreadable, but if stamped or embossed such labels can always be deciphered by careful examination. If they are not attached at top and bottom, the wire will work through the label as it flaps in the wind. A very excellent metal label is made in Canada, which retains its marking for a great while. It is a little more conspicuous and also more expensive, particularly when it is necessary to use a long rod. There is also a very good label made in England. This has the letters raised in white on a dark surface and can be furnished with a shank 18 inches long. These labels cost about 30 cents each, imported and delivered in Philadelphia. They have to be ordered and the name made in England. There is another label made in the West that has the name printed on paper or metal and held in an iron holder that is painted green. The green paint does not last long and the labels look bad when the iron begins to rust.