A flowering tree paeony is one of the most exciting things that can happen in your garden
Home & Garden

A flowering tree paeony is one of the most exciting things that can happen in your garden

MODERN gardens are far too cramped to allow for the inclusion of more than one, small ornamental tree or even a good-sized shrub, and unless you own a spacious plot, the choices you can have will be very limited. 

My own plot, purchased half a century ago, is a little more generous in size than the pocket handkerchiefs now being proffered with new homes, but it is still only large enough to house a few modest-sized specimens - but not the connoisseur collection I would lust for.

However, included among the gems which live out their lives to the rear of my home is a Tree Paeony, or moutan as it is more accurately known.

It is a preferable name also in descriptive terms, for the moutans are shrubs, and although they may sometimes grow a little 'leggy' they are never even remotely tree sized.

Moutans are not difficult to grow. For one thing they are perfectly tolerant of chalk and other limestone soils, while growing equally well (some would say better) in peaty, acid soils.

For another, the plants are totally hardy, but they do have a demerit when it comes to late spring frosts.

These plants begin to burgeon very early in the year (as do the herbaceous paeonies) and this can expose their very beautiful young foliage to severe frost damage.

Much of this can be avoided however for by siting the moutans away from early morning sunshine (just as we do with camellias) so the problem is not unsurmountable.

The flowering of a tree paeony in your garden will, I can assure you, be one the most exciting events that can occur in all your dealings with ornamental plants.

The blooms are massive, large as dinner plates, and sumptuous without being vulgar.

Their range of colours include bridal white, shocking pink, the purple of a bishop's robe, the lavender of a cottage garden, plus startling yellows, reds and golds.

Their leaves have another magnificence. Antler-like in shape and as deeply cut as any Japanese maple, they'll command attention long before and after blooming.

Their copper on green colouring (port wine on green) will have you gasping with admiration from the moment in spring when they first appear up to the end days of autumn when they succumb to the first hard frosts. In shape, the moutan tends to be mound-forming.

It will not offer you perfect symmetry, but it does have a combination of structure and lightness, substance and air, like ballet dancing-tangible but made to seem lighter than itself.

Tree paeonies do not come cheap so be prepared to part with up to €30 for a young specimen.

Specialist growers may charge a bit more for named varieties, but these will usually be larger and be more than two years old. Moutans, whatever you pay, are long-lived beauties.

When you plant one you are making an investment in the future, something to make an impressive prelude in your garden to the great early-summer flowering season.

Most of all, your grandchildren will remember these long after you have passed on.