The Timeless Transition: Swapping Roses for Peonies in Your Garden Sanctuary

The Timeless Transition: Swapping Roses for Peonies in Your Garden Sanctuary

Today, I’m removing roses from the front long border. In total, I’ll end up removing nine roses. What’s replacing those roses? Peonies, of course. Professionally, I’ve long had an expression, “hands-on plant.” On the nursery side, it would mean, how many people, how many minutes per year, have to touch this plant to make it beautiful? How many times a year does it need to be pruned? How many times a year does it need to be fertilized? How many times a year does it need to be cut back? These are basic questions, but these exact same questions exist in our gardens. How much time do we have for this rose? How much time does it take to have a rose? How much time does it take to have a peony? These are all questions that I ponder and solve while creating gardens here at Natchez Glen and for clients.

For roses, many years ago, I came up with the number that per rose, to have a beautiful rose. And by the way, I’m not just talking about a few flowers. Let’s have high expectations here. The catalog rose, the cover girl rose, that’s what we want. The one with hundreds of blooms, right? To have that rose, and you can have it, I’ve done it. We grew hundreds of roses here while we did a flower farm for three years. So, it can be done, even in the Southern United States. But, to get to that amount of roses, it takes about five hours a year, maybe six, to prune that rose back in the winter, prune it again in mid-summer, fertilize the rose, make sure you take out the old canes as they’re starting to decline, but also not too soon because we need structure. Understand the shape of the particular rose that you have, and also roses, especially on slightly heavier soils, really are never that happy with the nutrients. So again, to have that catalog rose, that rose we dream of, they are probably going to need to have a little bit of the “F” word, fertilizer. I know, eek. But such is the life of wanting to grow roses, and if you want to grow them, grow them. Do all the things with them, and then just have that somewhere in your mind.

Now, peonies. Now, obviously, I’m biased because I love peonies. But peonies, they take about an hour a year per plant, and this is a fun, leisurely hour I’m talking about. Once a year to go out sometime between the first frost of the year in November-ish, October-ish, and between spring, let’s call that, somewhere in the months of April or March, to go look, cut back their foliage, see if their new eyes for the year look healthy and fine. If we want to be really, really technical, win a county fair, maybe throw down a little bit of high nutrient P, high K value, low nitrogen, “F” word, fertilizer, we could do that. Not that much, maybe once every four years. And that’s it. I mean, that’s it. And then, of course, the day we go out there and cut, cut flower stems after a few years and bring them inside and enjoy our lifestyle, but that’s it. Peonies don’t have thorns. Did I mention peonies don’t have thorns?

For me, making the decision here at Natchez Glen to replace roses with peonies was also one of my thoughts. I do get bitten by these roses quite a bit, and they’re beautiful, but so are peonies. The other thing from a design standpoint, and creating both design and how we garden that design in the future, is this time spent theory of hours spent. For every minute or hour that the rose is taking, maybe it’s taking me away from thinking about something like a hellebore layer underneath my peonies, or adding a new bearded iris variety, or experimenting with some native perennial plants. That rose is taking some of that time from a very practical perspective. So no matter how you garden, magically or practically, grow what you love. But for me, making this decision today is sort of both. I love roses, but I do, in fact, love peonies a little more, and I manage a huge garden here with thousands and thousands of plants that all need just a little time, and some of them barely any minutes. A sweep of my hands across the old foliage to pull it away, and the plant’s ready for the new year. So a combination of those plants with some plants that need some time is what works for my garden, and I’d encourage you to always explore the time, the beauty that works for your garden.
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