Plant Now: Astilbes


If you find astilbes in your garden centre, plant some now. They are superb cut flowers with fluffy plumes in pink (as seen here), white, red or mauve. They’ll grow in sun or shade, with plumes appearing in spring and summer. They do best in cool summers, which is why you see more of them down south. In all cases, though, they like plenty of moisture.

If you prefer to grow by seed, you can get them from Kings Seeds and Egmont Seeds.

In this bouquet you can also see red peonies, red roses, white dahlias and the red berries of hypericum.

Plant Now: Peonies

Rich bunch of peoniesWhite peoniesIf you’re lucky enough to live in a cool climate (I never thought I would say that!), you can plant peonies now. Peonies need a certain amount of chilling before they bloom, so they’re not suited to warm areas. They won’t produce for about three years, but once they do they’ll continue blooming for years.

Peonies thrive in rich, free-draining soil in full sun. Do not plant them too deeply. The growing eyes should sit about 5cm below the soil surface. If you plant them too deeply they simply won’t flower. Keep them away from other plants as far as possible (at least 1m) and clear away any weeds. A general garden fertiliser given once a year in spring is ideal, but choose one that’s not so high in nitrogen otherwise plants may become more susceptible to fungal diseases. A potato fertiliser is ideal; it’s high in phosphate and potassium and low in nitrogen.

Two phenomenally amazing bouquets

Yellow tree peony wedding bouquet
Magnolia wedding bouquet
Ooh, I’m literally salivating over these two bouquets. The top arrangement, by Charleston Stems, includes yellow tree peonies, yellow ranunculi and white sweet peas. The bottom arrangement features a single creamy white magnolia. Both are so truly divine I simply can’t stop staring at them. See more at Southern Weddings.

Substitute for peonies

Roses and peonies
A reader (Amy Wenden) recently asked me what flower might be a good substitute for peonies. Her sister is getting married in March next year and has had her heart set on these sumptuous blooms. But given that peonies flower in spring, it’s unlikely she’ll find any around at that time. So the plea was for a flower that looked similar and one that would be ripe for the picking in March.

Well, I reckon roses are their best bet. But it’s the double flowered roses they need to look out for, and one that has what’s referred to as a ‘deep cut’ shape (basically, lots and lots and lots of petals). Many of the David Austin roses have this shape, as do the centifolia roses (which are nicknamed cabbage roses). But my pick would be Rosa ‘Pierre de Ronsard’ (sometimes called the Eden rose), a climbing rose that has huge, cup-shaped flowers. It’s exquisite, and it repeat flowers, so with a bit of luck it will bloom on cue. It’s available from Tasman Bay Roses, although realistically, a first-year rose bush is unlikely to provide enough blooms for a full bouquet.

There are many other cabbage roses available, but first, compare the photos above. The top photo (from Vintage Rose Collection) features the dreamy ‘Pierre de Ronsard’ rose (top) and the peony ‘Sara Bernhart’. See how similar they look?
The middle photo showcases yellow cabbage roses (found here), and the bottom one (from Martha Stewart) features pink cabbage roses. All pretty similar in form to the peony don’t you think?

Peonies from heaven


The first of the season’s peonies hit the flower auctions this week and they sold for a whopping $24 per stem! And that’s the wholesale price. If you’re lucky enough to be able to grow peonies in your area, you might be on to a good thing.

Peonies need a certain amount of cold to flower, so they won’t grow in my Auckland patch. But I love them all the same. If you want to grow them, autumn’s the best time for planting bare-rooted plants (most specialist nurseries send them out bare-rooted), although peonies in pots can be planted during the growing season. But don’t expect too much in the first year – it takes a good three or four years to become big enough for cutting.

The top two arrangements shown here were put together by Sarah from Saipua and posted on Design Sponge. You can check out her other peony arrangements there too. The bottom arrangement was crafted by the talented Denise over at Little Pheasant.

If you’re picking (or buying) peonies for the vase, cut when still in bud. You don’t want them to be too tight or hard – they should feel soft like a marshmallow. Same goes when buying them from a florist. If you can get them in bud stage, all the better.