Some varieties that have flourished in North Georgia, without flopping flowers
Big Ben (dark red)
Clair de Lune (white)
Coral charm (pink/salmon)
Do tell (pink)
Sea shell (pink)
Pink vanguard (pink)
Garden lace (pink)
Roy Pehrson’s best yellow (white)
Many happy returns (red)
Krinkled White (white with yellow center)
Paula Faye (vivid pink/lavender)
Glenny Carlene (pink/lavender)
Nice gal (lavender)
Source: Ted Meredit
CLERMONT — When Sandy Meredith asked her husband for some flowers, he went above and beyond the request.
Some peonies, she mentioned, would be nice to have outside the bedroom window. Their fluffy white, pink and yellow blooms would be a nice addition to the rolling hills around their Clermont home.
Ted Meredith soon realized, though, that while peonies look great in a vase as cut flowers, some don’t perform too well in the garden. Some varieties have thin stems, which makes the beautiful blooms droop.
So, he started keeping track of what he was growing.
"I keep lists, dates of when they bloom, if they had a strong stem," he said. That bedroom window collection started four years ago has now turned into an array of varieties in a wide bed across Meredith’s front yard. If they droop when they bloom, he notes it.
Thanks to a recent designation by the American Peony society, plants sold with an "ALM" — an award for landscape merit — will grow with strong stems that can hold up the full flowers.
"If a person is buying these locally, look for ALM," he said. "They have strong stems."
There have been a lot of advancements in the world of peonies in the last decade. An online cultivar registration makes it easier for home gardeners who experiment with different varieties and register their creations, and the American Peony Society also serves as the clearinghouse for questions and education about the peony.
Until air travel became more common, the peony was prized simply as a cut flower — it can be stored for several seeks in a refrigerator, which allowed it to be shipped great distances.
But today, it’s easy to get most any kind of cut flower. And, said Meredith, it’s equally easy to grow your own peonies.
"Prepare your soil well — dig at least a foot deep — in very loose soil," he said. "It should not be planted in wet spots."
In his own garden, Meredith has mixed mulch into the soil to keep it from packing too tight around the peonies’ roots. He said they should be planted in the fall, and can be divided from existing plants that are already established.
This time of year, their blooms are showing off. Depending on the variety, they will bloom from April and into May, until the really hot weather starts to set in.
His plants include varieties from old homes in the area, some from nearby garden centers and others purchased online. As long as they have the "ALM" designation, he said, their blooms will stay upright on strong stems.
"Once you plant them and find a good spot for them, they’re there forever," he said.
Sandy died about five months ago, but her memory continues on as puffy white, yellow and pink blooms dot the hardy shrubs in Meredith’s yard. And Meredith has plans to expand the bed, adding another row of the impressive flowers.
"She loved them all," he said. Although years after learning about the flowers, he still doesn’t mind the gardening work.
"She’d say something and I’d better get on it."