Remarkably, one of the tree peonies, Paeonia suffruticosa ssp rockii (above) has flowered already, as we usher in spring.
Large, luscious blooms with petals of white satin unfurl over a day or two from bronze-cupped buds as new leaves, too, display copper tones as they begin to mature.
I peer into the centre of each flower at the exquisite maroon inner parts of the flower before the wind and rain blow them away. How old is my plant now, I wonder? It's wallaby-grazed, tall and slender; maybe 10 years old, and relishing the banishment of the hungry herbivores. I've had 4 or 5 flowers now; riches.Peonies hail from China where they are known as the `king of flowers', symbolizing honour, wealth, and aristocracy, as well as love, affection, and feminine beauty. Zhao Chang of Song Dynasty (960-1279) painted this picture (left); he was known for drawing life-like flowers after walking around his garden early each morning. (What a great routine.)
My botanist mother comes to mind every time I see these Chinese beauties in bloom: she planted Paeonia suffruticosa ssp rockii exactly where she could see it through a picture window from her comfortable chair and the glorious flowers gave her joy every spring.
Cyclamen hederifolium at the feet of my tree peonies seem to work well: pretty marbled leaves now; pink flowers in autumn; leaves through the winter months while the peony is dormant.
Good plant combinations like that were her forte; I think she would approve of this one.
Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria. (www.jillweatherheadgardendesign.com.au)