Carsten Burkhardt's Web Project Paeonia - The Peony Library
The Manual of the American Peony Society
EDITED BY JAMES BOYD
Copyright 1928 by American Peony Society
PEONIES FOR EXHIBITION
By Harry F. Little
WITH the increased interest in gardening, almost every city and village now boasts of its garden club, and one or more flower exhibits are held during the season. One has only to visit these local shows to realize that the exhibition of blooms has become a modern art that excites almost as much interest as gardening itself and adds much to the pleasure of flowers. Cold storage has greatly increased the possibilities of exhibiting. Amateurs everywhere are becoming skilled in handling their blooms and are setting up displays that would do credit to our most elaborate national shows.
To the uninitiated, it must appear that the growing and preparation of the gorgeous show peonies now seen in competition is a deep and mysterious art; but the successful handling of show peonies is very simple, and may be undertaken by any gardener of even limited experience without fear of the results. Probably no other flower can be as easily grown, as successfully handled in cold storage, or as easily transported as the peony. No special laborious preparation or treatment of the plants is required to grow fine show blooms, and no extensive experience is required to handle them in storage. Neither is any special skill required to develop the flowers into form for the show table after they are taken from the cold-storage room.
Peonies can be held in storage for days, or even weeks, for exhibition as successfully as though freshly cut from the plants. In fact, peony blooms, cut in the bud and opened indoors away from the sun, always show far more delicate and beautiful coloring than flowers that open on the plants; and many of the finest varieties only show their true beauty when handled this way. With proper care in cutting, the different peonies may be placed in cold storage as they come into bloom, beginning with the earliest and ending with the very latest varieties, and all developed for show at the same time, long after the close of the blooming season.
The first essential in staging good show peonies is to have well-established plants from which to cut the flowers. It is not possible to get the finest blooms from young or immature plants. Neither is it possible to say how old a peony plant must be to
PEONIES FOR EXHIBITION
be at its best, for that depends on the variety itself, the size and vigor of the root from which it is grown, and the soil-conditions and cultivation with which it is favored. Certain varieties, under most favorable conditions, are slow to establish themselves and do not reach their best short of four or sometimes five years; while other kinds, happily situated, will put forth as fine blooms on two-year plants as they will ever produce. It is safe to say, however, that flowers must be cut from plants at least three years old, if a typical exhibit is to be staged covering any great number of varieties. Even then, the plants must be very well grown if an exhibit of fifty or one hundred varieties is to compete successfully with flowers from plants five or six years old.
Having good, healthy, well-established plants to begin with, cultivation and moisture become the chief requisites in obtaining fine show blooms. As soon as the new growth is above ground in the spring, cultivation should begin. With a fork or cultivator, the earth about the plant should be turned over several inches deep for at least two feet from the crowns. Throughout the growing season this top-soil should be frequently stirred to maintain a perfect earth-mulch to draw and hold moisture to the plant. If the season is dry, water should be supplied in sufficient quantity to soak the ground thoroughly to a depth of at least 18 inches every ten days until the flowers begin to open. Water is best supplied by letting it run slowly from the open end of a hose into a trench dug about the plants. Before the top-soil has time to dry out, the trench should be filled in and the earth-mulch again stirred up to retain the moisture. One thorough soaking is more effective than frequent light sprinklings.
With good ordinary garden soil, no special fertilization is necessary, although a light top-dressing of bone-meal applied in the fall, or wood ashes in the spring, in sufficient quantity to maintain the normal state of fertility in the soil, may be beneficial. Thoroughly rotted stable manure may be used to advantage, if properly handled. This is best applied as a top-dressing in the fall and forked under with the first working of the soil in the spring. It should be kept well away from the crowns of the plants. Fresh stable manure should never be used on peonies under any conditions. By using liquid manures, commercial fertilizers, nitrate of soda, and other concentrated plant-foods, strong plant-growth can be stimulated and abnormal flowers produced, but experience has shown that such treatment
MANUAL OF THE AMERICAN PEONY SOCIETY
of peony plants one year almost invariably results in sulking plants the following season. Often they are permanently injured. Well-established peony plants represent no small investment and the results to be obtained from force-feeding are hardly worth the risk of their sacrifice.
The abnormal flowers, which are developed by forcing peonies beyond their typical form and size, are not the most desirable for show. The fine texture and the delicate color tints of the petals are sacrificed to a great extent for size alone. Such forced blooms are not typical flowers of the varieties and their showing should be discouraged. Good normal flowers, typical of the variety, are the ideal show blooms, and these are only obtained from healthy, well-established plants grown under normal conditions.
As soon as the spring growth is sufficiently advanced, the plants should be disbudded. All laterals, or side buds, should be pinched off close to the stems and any weak or defective buds removed, leaving only the strong terminal buds to develop. Some growers pinch out all but three or four of the strongest terminal buds on each plant, and even go so far as to cut out some of the stems close to the ground to force the growth of the remaining plant. This is but another way to force abnormal flowers at the sacrifice of the future vitality of the plant.
Several days before the earliest varieties are ready to bloom, the plants should be gone over carefully, selecting the strongest and most promising buds of the varieties wanted for show. A small paper bagthe grocer's common half-pound size is bestshould be slipped over each bud and secured in place by a small rubber band twisted about the mouth of the bag below the bud, just tightly enough to prevent the bag from being blown away by the wind. After the rubber band is in place, care should be taken to pull the bag well up against the under side of the bud, otherwise the subsequent growth of the stems, especially of the later varieties, will force the buds up against the bottom of the bags and result in warped or crooked stems. The purpose of sacking the buds is twofold: First, the bags protect the maturing buds from damage from rain or sun; and, second, they furnish an ideal wrapping for the opening flowers when, in a half-opened state, they must be packed for shipping.
After the bags are in place, the buds should be labeled. By permanently labeling each bud before it is cut from the plant, much time and confusion will be saved when the rush of cutting
PEONIES FOR EXHIBITION
and handling is on and time becomes valuable. The common wooden tree labels are the most satisfactory ones to use because they withstand damage in handling and are not affected by water. The label should be attached about the stem, well up near the bud, so it will be visible when the stems are in water.
When the first flowers begin to open, close attention must be given to the sacked buds, for the whole secret of the successful storage of peonies is in cutting the buds of the different varieties at just the right stage. While this is a trick that must be learned by experience, there are certain rules that may be followed and the knack quickly acquired. The length of time the blooms are to be held and the type of flower must be considered. If flowers are wanted for showing a week after the close of the blooming season, it would be necessary to hold the earlier varieties in cold storage from three to four weeks and the midseason kinds for about two weeks. By watching the exposed buds on the plants and by feeling the buds under the bags, one will quickly learn the feel of the buds ready to cut. Early varieties, such as Umbellata Rosea, Grandiflora Nivea Plena, and Edulis Superba, should be cut rather tight, just as the buds begin to swell and show color. Midseason varieties, such as Frances Willard and Lady Alexandra Duff, and most of the varieties except the very latest, should be cut just when the petals loosen but before they begin to unfold. Late varieties, such as Marie Lemoine, Milton Hill, and Enchanteresse, must be left on the plants until almost half open. Single, Japanese, and the semi-double varieties of scant petalage should be cut in tighter bud than the fully double types, such as Jubilee and Phoebe Gary. Very compact, full-petaled varieties, such as L'lndis-pensable and Marie Lemoine, must be allowed to develop proportionately longer on the plants.
As the buds reach the proper stage, they should be cut with stems 15 to 18 inches long, and all but the top foliage stripped off. Longer stems on show flowers, unless they are to be shown in large bunches or in baskets, are superfluous, and the extra foliage can well be left on the plants. All buds of one variety, even on the same plant, do not develop evenly, so it may be necessary to make cuttings of the same variety at several different times. As fast as cut, the buds should be placed in jars of water in a cool basement where the different varieties can be assembled and tied together for convenience in handling. The sooner they
MANUAL OF THE AMERICAN PEONY SOCIETY
can be transferred to the cold-storage room the better. If necessary to ship a distance, pack the buds dry and tight in light boxes or cartons and forward the quickest way. In storage, the buds are best placed in jars of water, although satisfactory results are obtained by storing dry at a low temperature.
For short holding, the best temperature is an average of 40 degrees. Under such conditions the tight buds remain almost dormant for days and then develop very slowly until the immense blooms fill the half-pound bags almost to the bursting point. At lower temperatures, the flowers may be held almost dormant but require a longer time to develop when brought out.
Where a cold-storage room is not accessible, peonies can be held successfully for a week or longer in the family ice-box, or in a cool, dark cellar. The buds should be prepared and handled in exactly the same manner as described for the storage-room.
When shipment from the storage to the showroom is necessary, the trunks, or whatever containers are to be used, should be taken directly in to the cold-room for packing and heavily lined with paper. After the stems have been thoroughly dried, pack the blooms in layers tight enough to prevent any shaking about in transit. Water left on the stems will dampen the bags, spot the petals, and ruin the flowers. If packed cold in the storage-room and insulated with the paper linings, the containers will withstand a journey of twenty-four to thirty-six hours, even in hot weather, without injury to the flowers.
On reaching the showroom, sufficient jars or bottles of water should first be provided to receive all the blooms before the shipping containers are opened. As fast as possible the ends of the stems should be clipped and the flowers placed in water. Then, and not until then, the paper bags should be removed, and the flowers given ample room and opportunity to open. At least twenty-four hours are required for the storage blooms to develop after being unpacked, so plans should be made to have exhibits set up in ample time before the judging.
Thrills, indeed, await the exhibitor who has yet to watch with anxious anticipation the development of his first show blooms. The half-opened buds unfold so fast that one can almost see the immense flowers grow in size and beauty, while seemingly tight buds respond to the welcome warmth and unfold into fully developed flowers, often larger and more beautiful than the finest blooms opened naturally on the plants.