Monday, May 23, 2016

Tree Peony 'Shan Hu Tai' in 2016

'Shan Hu Tai' means "Coral Terrace" or "Coral Altar" in Chinese.

Tree peony 'Shan Hu Tai'

You can see where the peony got its name when you look at the stunning color of the blooms. The petals are an indescribable purplish-coral-reddish-pink, with deep purple-black blotches at their centers and silvery pink fading along the ruffled outer tips. The color is so bright it fairly screams from across the garden, yet it has an airy lightness and does not appear harsh or glary. It's actually a very hard color to photograph - these pictures don't do it justice!

Tree peony 'Shan Hu Tai' - 6 year old plant

The bush tends to have a low, flattened shape, thus the "Terrace/Altar" part of the name. It generally grows to only about 3 feet tall, but 4-5 feet wide (unlike most tree peonies which tend to be taller than wide). Despite its dwarf size, the plant grows vigorously, and is a very prolific bloomer. This is the fourth year for this specimen in my garden, and I purchased a two-year old division, so overall it is only a 6-year old. Just a baby - it will get much larger than this and have many more flowers in a few years!

Tree peony 'Shan Hu Tai'

The blooms have a delicious spicy-sweet fragrance, exotic and almost cinnamony. It is currently the earliest of my tree peonies to bloom, generally coming in a few days to a week before the other Chinese tree peonies in early May. It also holds its blooms for an unusually long time.

Tree peony 'Shan Hu Tai' - kingfisher headdress flower form

The blooms are not overly large (I'd say about 6-7 inches), but very full and double - simply packed with silky salmon petals. The shape of the flowers varies from semi- to fully double, but especially on mature bushes, many of the flowers will have the highly-prized "Kingfisher Headdress" flower form. You can see an example of this in the picture above. Inside the main flower there is an additional "tuft" of taller petals that stick up at a jaunty angle, apparently resembling a fancy Chinese hair ornament.

Tree peony 'Shan Hu Tai' - red stems and leaf outlines in spring

The foliage is a good mid-green, complementing the color of the blooms perfectly. In early spring, the plant has red stems and the leaves are attractively outlined with red as well, but this color usually fades by bloom-time.

Tree peony 'Shan Hu Tai'

The bush has a naturally attractive shape, and the blooms have a nice presentation, nestling just slightly into the foliage at the top of the plant.

Tree peony 'Shan Hu Tai'

It would of course be impossible for me to pick just ONE favorite tree peony, but this one would certainly be a contender!

Friday, April 3, 2015

The First Glimmerings

The earth is slowly warming up, and we have the first glimmerings of spring moving in the garden. Here are some giant purple crocuses:

Crocus vernus 'Flower Record'

The dark purple color makes a nice contrast with the evergreen foliage of this yellow Hinoki False Cypress which is growing across the way.

Chamaecyparis pisifera aurea nana, with Crocus vernus 'Flower Record'

This yellow Crocus is also going strong now. I love the searing color of this one - it almost burns my eyes with its brightness after the bleakness of winter.

Crocus vernus 'Yellow Mammoth'

The snowdrops are already fading now. Most have gone to seed, and only a few flowers remain:

Galanthus elwesii (Giant Snowdrop) with Bergenia

And possibly my favorite of the early bulbs, these gorgeous clear blue Reticulated Irises:

Iris reticulata 'Clairette'

A wide view of the Peony Bed. Little patches of iris and crocus are in bloom, and as you can see the tree peonies are already starting to leaf out!

Peony bed in early April

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Wake up, Garden!

Suddenly, it is spring!

One day the garden was covered in snow and ice. And the next - little growing things are peeping here and there! Surprises around every corner. I went out the other day to spread out the last remaining snowmounds, and here is what I found:

Eranthis hyemalis emerging from the near-frozen soil

Galanthus elwesii unfurling among patches of snow
Meanwhile, the rose garden was still covered in snow:

Rose garden in late winter

Just a few days later, the snow is all gone, though the ground is still frozen solid in spots. The snowdrops and Aconites are in their prime, however, and the daffodils and even some tulips have already started to push through the soil in warmer spots:

Eranthis hyemalis in mid-March
Galanthus elwesii (Giant snowdrops) in mid-March

These little bulbs are tiny, few, and not likely to stop traffic. But oh how we cherish these first flowers of spring!

In a warm zone by the house, even these giant crocus have already started blooming. They really should not be the first crocuses to bloom - my little species crocuses should pop first - but these have a head start due to their warm sunny location.

Crocus vernus 'Flower Record in mid-March
I've already started my spring clean-up chores - cutting back old foliage, trimming away dead wood, raking back leaf litter to expose and warm the soil. The warm fresh air reinvigorates the garden and the gardener.
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