Henry Chotkowski, the Peony Man, is holding his annual Mother’s Day party, Sunday from 1 to 5. He and his wife Karen open their acre of blooming peonies to the public for the day, providing refreshments to the hundreds of visitors who come to enjoy peak peony season. Their garden is in the rolling hills 10-miles west of Fayetteville AR.
Before shopping for peonies, it is a good idea to know a little bit about what you want for your garden.
There are two types of Peonies or Paeonia: The herbaceous type that dies to the ground every year and the woody type that has shrub-like branches and stems.
Three-feet tall is typical for peonies but there are some that are under 2-feet and others that grow 4 or 5 feet tall.
Peony flower colors range from white to deep red with many pinks and corals in between.
Peony flower forms include saucer or bowl shaped singles with whorls of 5 to 10 petals; semi-doubles with two or three layers of those whorls; doubles have with narrower overlapping petals and Japanese or anemone form with single or semi-double flowers in which the stamens are replaced by petal-like petaloids or staminodes.
Hardy from zones 3 to 8, they are fairly easy to grow if the right conditions are provided.
“Tree peonies like some shade in the afternoon, and most of the dark colors fade in full sun,” said Chotkowski. “You can have six weeks of peony flowers by planting early, mid-season and late-blooming varieties.”
Chotkowski Gardens has 1200 cultivars to enjoy on a visit. His interest in peonies began in 1988 when he assisted a grower in Manassas VA where he and his wife were living at the time. When they moved back to Arkansas in 1996, they brought 600 plants with them and that was the beginning.
When putting in new plants, Chotkowski recommends digging a hole 18 by 18 by 18 and filling it with a combination of soil and compost. If the ground around the planting hole is particularly heavy, some sand can be added to the mix to improve drainage.
“I’ve heard that adding wood ashes is good for them but I have never used it,” said Chotkowski. “Also, a little fertilizer can be added but only the smallest amount at the dripline after the plant is in the ground two or three years. The best time is just after they emerge in the spring."
“We never water the garden,” Chotkowski said. “The amount of rain during the previous summer is what makes this year’s flower buds. The plants suffered during the two-year drought and we lost a few”.
Peonies need a minimum of six hours of sun for best flowering in our area. Farther north, 8-hours of sun is the recommended minimum.
Some of the flowers we saw last week included Phoenix White, Baiyu which is a double white, Shimanishiki Tree Peony with pink and red flowers, and, Golden Wings with large peach flowers.
One of Chotkowski’s mid-season beauties is Red Charm and the late season varieties he suggested are Myra McRae and Pink Radiance.
Many basic growing questions are answered on the American Peony Society website (www.americanpeonysociety.org) and there is a helpful site called Peony Bloom Date (peonybloomdate.com) where the cultivars are listed by bloom date.
Chotkowski Gardens is an acre of peonies and irises that visitors are free to wander. It is worth the trip.
“Normally people can come look and select the plants they want and then come back to pick them up when they are dug in the fall,” Chotkowski said. “This year we are selling only the ones that are already in pots.”