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Background planting peonies

Posted by alexh CA, zone 9 (My Page) on
Sat, Oct 21, 06 at 19:48


I just planted 3 bareroot tree peonies in a new raised bed. The bed where the peonies are is about 6' wide and 15' long. Before actually planting the peonies I dug down at least 3 additional feet to insure that the roots have plenty of room and to lessen the chance of them getting waterlogged since below 2' of so the soil is pure clay and doesn't drain at all.

What I was wondering is if I should attempt to background plant these peonies. There is a 5' high wooden fence behind them which does not make the most attractive background. Of course I have to be somewhat careful as there is only about 3' between the peony stem and the fence. However, the peonies are spaced by 4 so some additional space can be gained by planting primarily between the peonies.

The other issue is that the other leg of my raised bed should be full of color during the whole growing season so if I don't have some plants that bloom in summer it may look unbalanced. Of course I know these peonies won't produce for a year or 2 at least but I'm planning for the long term. Also, I don't want to compete with the peony blooms, just provide a background for them and ideally provide some color after the peony bloom is over. I don't think this is much of an issue because most of the taller perennials bloom late. Im not really considering vines at this point because I already have 6 Clematis and 2 climbing roses on the other leg of my bed but it may be the way to go if the plants listed below are too competitive with the peonies.

I'm sort of new at serious gardening but I checked a few of my books and came up with a list as follows. Also, due to lack of experience I have no idea what these plants look like in early summer (ie. Is the foliage mostly grown?) By the way, Im zone 9, Western Gardening zone 16 (which includes most zone 7,8 plants also). Location has full sun until about 3:00 pm when a shadow from the fence starts across the ground.

1. Yarrow The fernleaf yarrow gets to 4-5 tall.

2. Crambe May need 4-6 feet of space at the base due to giant leaves. Flowers look like babys breath.

3. Coreopsis gigantea grows to at lest 3 but other more common forms are almost as tall. The book "Perennial Combinations" lists Coreopsis Tripteris (zone 3-8) which is not in the Western Garden book. Yellow daisy like flowers.

4. Cup Plant also found in the book above but the genus is not even listed in Wetern Garden (Silphium perfolatium, zones 5-9). Yellow daisy like flowers.

5. Venusta listed in the Perennial all star book (Fillipendula rubra). Pink flowers at the end of branches that look like cotton candy.

6. Joe Pye Weed although a USDA zone 7, Western says its good in my area. Perennial all Star book lists gateway as 5-6. Seems to be a mainstay of perennial gardens in the east.

7. Roses roses seem to be a natural with the peony but tree peony is a little to tall for floribundas and hybrid teas are risky, right? Of course Im not ruling out floribundas towards the front of the bed but I think they would get lost in the back.

8. Then of course there are small footprint bulbs such as Lilies and Dahlias. I intend to use these between the plants listed above but I dont think they will do much in terms of a foliage background.

Thanks for any advice!

PS. Part of this is also my uncertainty about spacing rules. Many of the plant nurseries have very strict spacing rules, like 3 for Clematis, 4 for Peonies. This is probably a good idea but it seems like its regularly violated in the books I have especially between different species (Ie. Roses combined with clematis). Are the nurseries specifying these spacing rules to stay on the safe side? And also, I would think that optimum conditions in terms of prepared soil depth, optimum sunlight reaching foliage regardless of spacing (ie. taller plants casting shadows towards back of bed) allow one to reduce the spacing.

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Background planting peonies

You might consider using a fairly columnar ornamental grass (like calamagrostis 'Karl Foerster'), or an ornamental bamboo that isn't a rampant spreader (or that can be planted in a deep pot). The contrast of the tall narrow form with the peony foliage and flowers could be quite lovely.

You're in such a warm zone, I'm not familiar with your growing conditions at all. Could you use something like a gardenia bush (possibly in an ornamental container for added height), or a jasmine vine? The fragrance would be wonderful, and the white flowers and waxy green leaves of both would be eye-catching without competing with the peony flowers.


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