In the Garden:
Middle South
May, 2010
Regional Report

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A combo of 'Scarlett O'Hara' peonies and 'Homestead' verbena makes a stunning spring display.

Spring Garden is Pure Pleasure

I always say autumn is my favorite season, but when April and May arrive, I wonder why. What time of year could be more beautiful than spring? Every day, the garden brings new delights.

This morning's walk through the woodland garden revealed tightly curled, cigar-shaped leaves of hosta emerging from the soil, and blooms taking shape at the tip of hydrangea branches. I cupped a pale yellow flower of 'Athens' sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus) between my hands, closed my eyes, and inhaled deeply to enjoy its cantaloupe-scented perfume.

I was especially eager to check perennials added to the garden last year, ensuring they had survived winter's chill. I found two in full flower: a hardy groundcover orchid, Bletilla striata 'Innocence,' and a small, dainty crested iris, Iris cristata 'Alba.'

In the formal parterre behind the house, a dozen 'Knockout' roses circled the parterre in a ring of vibrant cherry-red blooms, while catmint (Nepeta x faassenii), planted alongside the roses, claimed a share of attention with spikes of lavender-blue flowers.

The cottage garden near the front porch held the promise of summer. There, I found a collection of sun-loving perennials well on their way to maturity, growing inches every day. Soon, empty spaces will be ready for the addition of warm-season annuals, and I can hardly wait to get my hands in the soil.

You see, I've had more than my usual opportunity to observe this season, as I've been sidelined with a reoccurring knee problem. Even troubles have their blessings, however. One of mine came in the form of a glorious bouquet of peonies picked from my friend Susie's garden.

The flowers came from a tree peony (Paeonia suffruticosa) with the palest of pink blooms that faded to white. Susie doesn't remember its name but says it's one of the many she has purchased from the plant sale of the South Carolina Botanical Garden in Clemson.

The crinkled flowers were semi-double in form with a large yellow center of stamens. They were the most elegant flowers that have ever adorned my dressing table, and their beauty and fragrance made me pledge to grow more of these fabulous plants.

Last week I visited Susie's garden to see another peony, this one a herbaceous hybrid named 'Scarlett O'Hara.' Susie has a group of these plants at the top of a retaining wall, basking in full sun. Underplanted with vibrant purple 'Homestead' verbena, the bright red (fading to pale pink) single-form flowers danced like butterflies above their glossy green foliage. Each of the robust plants had grown to nearly mammoth proportions, and many of the flower stalks sported side buds for a long season of bloom.

Simply put, the peonies took my breath away. That's it, isn't it? That's what the spring garden is all about- pure pleasure.


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