Chartwell is well known for a number of plants. From the myriad of roses in Lady Churchill’s Rose Garden and the Golden Rose Avenue to the oldest Cryptomeria japonica in the country, from the historic apple trees in the Orchard to stunning Magnolias near the Golden Orfe Pond. But perhaps some of our unsung heroes are the herbaceous and woody peonies that stud the various beds and borders like hidden gems. You can find them along the Jacob’s Ladder steps that lead up to the Main Terrace lawn, on the Top Terrace and in the walled garden and all of them are well worth hunting out right now.
Native to the likes of Asia, North America and Southern Europe, the peony is named after Paeon, a student of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and healing. Asclepius became jealous of his pupil but Zeus himself saved Paeon from the wrath of Asclepius by turning him into the peony flower. The medicinal uses of the peony include antioxidant, antitumor, antipathogenic and immune-system-modulation activities, as well as cardiovascular-system-protective uses and central-nervous-system control. The root of Paeonia lactiflora has been used for a long time in traditional medicines of Korea, China and Japan. Research also suggests that constituents in P. lactiflora – paeoniflorin and paeonol – can help relive chronic itching and scratching.
Peonies are often thought to be difficult to grow, with old folklore claiming that mischievous nymphs were said to hide in the petals, but if you follow some basic planting and cultivation instructions you should be alright. They like full sun and neutral to slightly alkaline soils with good drainage. Avoid overfeeding them and although they are relatively drought tolerant once established, make sure they don’t dry out when newly planted, especially when flower buds are forming. We are lucky here at Chartwell that ours don’t seem to suffer from any pests and diseases (touch wood!) but they can be prone to the likes to peony wilt, peony blotch, honey fungus, eelworm attack and caterpillar damage! A good vigilant crop monitoring regime is therefore essential until they are well established.
The peony is among the longest-used flowers in Eastern culture and is a traditional floral symbol of China. It is also the state flower of Indiana, USA replacing the Zinnia in 1931. Right now it feels like it should be the official flower of Chartwell! Come and pay us a visit for yourselves soon to make up your own minds. If you take any photographs of our peonies or anything else whilst in the garden, you still have until the end of June to enter the Chartwell Garden Calendar Photography Competition too!