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Peony for the Chinese is a symbol of prosperity – it is a plant shrouded in myth and legend. The root once carved by country folk into a necklace to ward off maladies and, like the mandrake plant, was meant to scream and kill anyone within earshot if dug up. Luckily, this is just a myth and there are many varieties of peony to choose from, without having to dig any up.
Peony ‘Pecher' would have to be near the top of my list – a lovely scented pinky double white, with a red edge round the outer petals, it will reach almost 3 feet. The scent from this flower is used by the perfume industry and makes a good cut flower too. Peony ‘Dancing Butterfly' has a more open, single deep pink flower with contrasting rich yellow centre stamen filaments. Its open form makes it especially good at attracting pollinators to your garden. Variety ‘Paul M. Wild' should also not be missed – a rich ruby red double flower rising to 2 feet. and again, a good cut flower. A lovely solferino red, ‘General McMahon' is a later flowering variety. Larger also at 3 feet, and flowering towards the end of June. Just give them a sunny site and good, deep rich soil and they will reward you for years to come.
Azaleas will soon be in full flower and particularly effective for a cooler spot, such as a porch or cool room. Easily kept in a pot, Azalea simsii are ideal for this position, and can be put out in the summer – it is imortant, however not to let them completely dry out. They can return for a rest in the porch for the winter to perform again next year. Look out for the attractive Sachsenstern, with its white flowers edged in red, or the white and pink edged Panfilia. A true herald to the summer colour to come.
Plant Manager, Tates of Sussex