Tales from The Walled Garden: Wake up and smell the…peonies!

Last week saw us make our annual pilgrimage to the Royal Hospital Chelsea.  I love The Chelsea Flower Show. I spend each evening glued to the television watching Monty and Joe critique the gardens so by the time I visit I’m armed with as much information as possible.  It is a huge source of inspiration and information; the nurserymen and women are a wealth of knowledge and experience and for a gardening nerd like me I can be totally indulgent without appearing odd.

The Chelsea Flower Show marks the start of the Chelsea Chop.  This is the cutting back of late flowering perennials at the end of May into early June.  Here at Houghton Lodge we cut back the sedum and phlox by a third or up to a half of its growth.  By doing this the plants become more compact and require less staking. It also pushes back their flowering so maintaining interest for later in the season.  Give it a go, it seems drastic at the time but they soon bounce back and you will reap the benefits later in the summer.

Our peonies are in full bloom!  And our Peony Walk at this time of year simply stops you in your tracks.  The blooms are the size of your face and so varied; there are masses of single, semi-double and double flowers along the whole walk.  Oh and the scent, it’s heavenly and well worth the reward of stooping down and getting up close and personal with your peonies.

And truly, they are not difficult to grow.  Be sure to have good drainage, peonies do not like having wet feet.  They are superficial so don’t plant them too deep! 5cm below the surface of the soil max.  And be careful not to cover the crowns when mulching in the winter, just mulch around them. With blooms like that they will never be happy sat in a shady corner.  Oh no they need full sun. And it is as simple as that. Yes I know their blooms don’t last long but who could be without a peony?

With the passing of Derby Day we can safely say we have passed the chance of any late frosts and so can turn our attention to Box.  Our topiary dragon, peacock and hedging needs a haircut. It can be tempting to get carried away and really go for it but gently does it is the order of the day.  We certainly don’t want a stressed dragon or peacock here!

As the days lengthen it is tempting to spend every moment of daylight busy in the garden titivating but it is important to stop and feast on all your hard work.  Take the time to notice all the textures, savor the asparagus, hear the song thrush, drink in the vibrant colours of summer and of course smell the peonies.

By Stella Weir, Gardener at Houghton Lodge Gardens

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