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'About to bloom, and exhale a rainbow: the peony!' Learn to grow this flower, revered in haiku

A bush of flowering pink peonies with green leaves.
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This tree peony is a hardy hybrid that grows well in Vermont and comes in knock-out colors.

This gorgeous, bloom-filled plant is often referred to in the Japanese form of poetry, called, haiku. In just a few words and syllables, its beauty is captured in poems like the one in the headline, written by Buson or this from the poet Basho from the Edo period (1603-1868).

a bee
staggers out
of the peony

Explore more odes to the peony here and read on to learn how to grow and cultivate your own beautiful blooms so you, too, can wax poetic as the season progresses.

The peony plant is either the herbaceous variety or a hybrid of the herbaceous peony, called the "Itoh" hybrid.

The herbaceous peony variety is the one you're probably most familiar with. These grow well here and are hardy in Zone Three and Four. These peonies are a kind of perennial plant that dies back in the fall and grows back up in the spring.

Some of these herbaceous peonies are species varieties, which are the sorts that bloom really early and have just single flowers.

But the ones most people really enjoy planting and growing in their lawns and landscape are the "doubles." These are the ones that are just gaudy and dripping with petals!

Whether it's the white Festiva Maxima, with a little splash of red, or the pink Sarah Bernhardt, or the burgundy Red Magic, there are so many different colors and varieties.

A gardener once crossed the tree peony, which are the ones that look like little shrubs, with the herbaceous peony, to create the Itoh hybrids.

They grow like an herbaceous peony but they have the colors of a tree peony. Another nice thing about the Itoh hybrids is that the flowers last longer than a regular herbaceous peony and the plant and the leaves are a little more compact.

Whichever variety you plant, make sure it's in full sun and well-drained soil. And think of peonies as something that's will last for decades. Place it in a spot where it's going to be in full sun for a long time. If you do ever want to move your peonies, move them in the fall.

This is the time of year to plant peonies, though! Start with peonies grown in nurseries or garden centers. Make a good-sized hole, and backfill it with native soil then keep adding water.

Place the peony plant inside so that it sits about one to two inches below the ground surface. If it's too deep, it won't bloom very well. Add a bit of mulch, keep it well watered and it'll grow beautifully.

Q: Vinca Minor has been a major disappointment and very invasive. Is there a ground cover that's good for heavily-shaded areas that won't try and take over the yard? - Cynthia in Wallingford

A: This depends upon what kind of shade you have. If you have deep shade - the sort that a spruce tree or a hemlock or pine tree would provide - there isn't much that would grow well as a ground cover there.

However, if you have shade underneath from a deciduous tree, like a big maple or oak with light that comes in, then you have a lot of options!

Think of native plants that you see in the forest. For example, the bunchberry, a low-growing plant with red little berries on it, will grow well.

Wild ginger would be a nice selection as a ground cover. Try sweet woodruff or Lysimachia, or a creeping ground cover, like sweet Jenny.

Experiment with some of those wild plants and see how they do in that landscape.

All Things Gardening is powered by you, the listener! Send your gardening questions and conundrums and Charlie may answer them in upcoming episodes. You can also leave a voicemail with your gardening question by calling VPR at (802) 655-9451.

Hear All Things Gardening during Weekend Edition Sunday with VPR host Mary Engisch, Sunday mornings at 9:35.

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Mary Engisch is the host and reporter for Weekend Edition Saturday and Weekend Edition Sunday on VPR.
Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on VPR. Be part of the fun and send your gardening questions here, for Charlie to answer on the air. Plus, find lots of great gardening tips and information for all seasons here. For more gardening information, check out Charlie's website, Gardening with Charlie Nardozzi. Charlie is a guest on VPR's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.