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Cuttings from the Flower Garden - Peony

Cuttings from the flower Garden - Peony

Flower Festival at All Saints’ Church, Biddenden​

Coral-coloured festival peonies

‘Have you ever seen anything like that?’ asked my mother. She was showing me the enormous and beautiful, coral-coloured peonies that had been used in the flower festival at All Saints’ Church, Biddenden at the end of May. Yes, I had seen these show stopping blooms before. About 10 years ago a friend and I were visiting New Covent Garden to buy some flowers for a ball at the beginning of July and prominent on a number of stalls were these roseate orbs. We were tempted and bought a couple of bunches. We used them in single bud vases and the salmon petals opened to spectacularly large flowers with creamy interiors. We were both hooked.

Shocking pink peony

 Pink peony

I have to admit to a slight love hate relationship with herbaceous peonies. I have always admired these amazing flowers that, if happy with their growing conditions in a sunny spot in moist, but well drained soil, stop people in their tracks when they bloom in the garden. On the other hand, as cut flowers, they can be capricious. I have had bunches for weddings or parties whose tight hard buds have flatly refused to move in spite of all my coaxing. Putting them out in the sun, bringing them in to a warm room, they either don’t budge at all or come out several days, if not weeks, after you need them. 

Peony bouquet

When I worked at Moyses Stevens in London, my boss had ordered bunches of peonies for a party we were decorating in the hotel.  It was a prestigious event as it was the celebration following the playing of the Wightman Cup, the ladies equivalent in tennis of the Davis Cup and sadly no longer staged. The pale pink ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ blooms sat in the stairwell of the hotel in as cool a spot as possible. My boss was off for a few days and each day I looked at the flowers as they opened to perfection and then dropped. By the time of the event there were just three flowers left! It was a catastrophe. My boss substituted pink carnations, but the client was not happy as she was superstitious about carnations. Oh how those beautiful can-can dancing blossoms let us down big time. 

Stages of opening

Primrose yellow

My happy memories of this flower are when my boss filled the enormous urn in the entrance to the hotel with pale pink peonies and copper beech foliage. The combination worked to perfection and whenever I see either copper beech or pale pink peonies, I have a warm glow. It was my job to keep the arrangement going for the whole week, and I do believe those peonies did us proud. A friend and I used them in the floral arch that we erected for the end of term celebrations at the school where I worked. They added depth and mingled well with the stocks, roses, lilies and hydrangeas.

Peony field

Peony field

To be honest I have only come across white, coral or pale pink ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ peonies, so imagine my joy, when up at the Kent Garden Show at Detling I came across a peony farmer growing for cut flowers. Having seen the stand where the peonies were arranged in the drawers of a chest of drawers along with some other flowers, I had to find out more. Kate Blacker, of Blacker and Moore, has converted her passion for peonies in to a business.  I visited her five acre site and walked up and down the rows of peonies with Kate. Somewhat unnervingly, Kate was pulling off the buds on the peonies. She told me that in order to get the size and quality of blooms florists want, at least a third of the buds have to be sacrificed and when the plant is young and first establishing, Kate removes all of the buds. Florists can come and pick the flowers they want and Kate is an expert in telling when they are right to be cut. She gently pressed a bud that was showing some colour and pronounced that it felt like a marshmallow so could be harvested. I was heartened to see so many different varieties of peonies, not just the well-known pale pinks and whites, but deep reds, corals, shocking pinks and primrose yellow. I was designing flower arrangements in my mind’s eye with all these exciting colours. Kate had researched her peonies well and had visited Holland to talk to peony growers to find out which were the best flowers to grow. Each year, she treats herself to new peony varieties and trials them to see whether they will make the grade as good cut flowers.  Kate also sells her flowers at London markets where I am sure they are snapped up.  The red peonies which I saw were Chinese and were almost luminous, they were quite staggering. Although they are not available at the moment, I for one cannot wait until they are. Kate recommended a pink flowering peony that not only has the ‘look’, but also has a wonderful scent, so not just a pretty flower, but a deliciously fragrant one at that.

Chinese peonies

Cream peony

I am a true convert and shall look forward to using these magnificent, blowsy and magical flowers in more flower arrangements. I was so tempted that I now have four new peonies in my border!

Wonderful name 1

Wonderful name 2

Garden planting


Posted by Sophie Leathart

Sophie Leathart of Black Knight Flowers is a freelance florist with 30 years’ experience. 


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