THE PEONY, 'Monsieur Jules Elie', is in bloom now, displaying its only defect, which is weak stems that require support if they are not flop on the ground, and its assorted virtues of scent, color and form.
'Monsieur' is a firm unwavering pink, the color most people would call baby-ribbon pink.There are blue and gray and silver in it.
There are perhaps 10 rather large outer petals that hang down, surrounding the base of the flower, and in the center is a globe of pink petals half an inch wide. These are transformed stamens, and they are clustered together like a great pink "football" chrysanthemum. The solid globe, composed of these upright and incurving petals, may be as large as 10 inches in diameter.
I have grown 'Monsieur' to roughly the size of a basketball, but it is handsomest when the flower is six or seven inches across and seven or nine inches deep, from top to bottom. Each stem bears several side buds; and usually I do not pinch them off, let them alone to bloom a few days after the main terminal flower is past.
This peony blooms with the main burst of tall bearded garden irises. For many years we had no pink irises, and 'Monsieur' was all the more treasured in those days.
This is one of the commonest varieties of peony, one of the best-loved, and one of the finest. It grows like a dream, never fails to flower lavishly, and blooms before summer heat can discourage it from opening its intensely double blooms. There is no such thing as 'Mons. Jules Elie' failing to open.
Another pink peony blooming now, with the same defect of weak stems, is 'Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt,' which is what I call blush pink. The flowers are rounded, circular, of beautiful fine-granined texture and somewhat scented.
'Westerner' is a medium-deep clear pink (not cerise or madder) with enormous petals in a ring surrounding the shredded yellow center, like a smallish yellow chrysanthemum sitting in a great ruff of pink petals. It is not quite in bloom. 'Largo,' another flower built on the same plan, is also a few days off. It has deep cerise-magentapink single blooms with the usual center of fluffy yellowish petaloids. It too has weak steams.
'Westerner,' alone of these mentioned, has firm stems that usually require no support.
Among red peonies Igreatly like 'Red Charm,' a somewhat idiot name for a flower perhaps, and it is crimson with sometimes a good hint of scarlet, particularly when the flower is newly opened.
It too blooms with the early and midseason irises. The flower is fully double, and the staminodes-those slender inner petals-are not jammed so tightly as in 'Mons. Jules Elie' but all have room to breathe, so to speak, and to catch the light. The effect is sumptuous. This peony has good stems and an agreeable slight scent and good foliage. I would not willingly have a garden without it.
'Chippewa' is a great tall red peony that blooms with irises, and it makes a great show, and so does 'Big Ben,' another early red with enough blue in it to seem sometimes purplish red. But that does not sound attractive, while the peony itself is.
'Festiva Maxima' is the old (mid-19th century) white with crimson flakes and weak stems. It is utterly reliable and except for the stems is fairly faultless.
Peony roots, planted in October, can be jammed in as close as 20 inches apart. Ideally, the plants are spaced 50 inches apart, but I have noticed city gardeners are not interested in ideal spacings, and the critical figure for them is how closely things can be crammed in without defeating the point of planting peonies in the first place.
If one had a space of five feet, two peonies would be reasonable, but three could be stuffed. I know there are gardeners with plenty of space but I never meet them, and I know there are gardeners who had rather have on peony given flawless treatment and space than three that suffered a bit, but I never meet them either.
My own peonies have plenty of space, since I did not know at the time how closely you can pack them in.
My garden is a series of tangles that please me mightily, with the peonies 'Chippewa' and 'Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt' against a solid bank of the pink rose "Mme. Gregoire Staechelin.'
'Mme. Gregoire' is interrupted with a few branches of the scarlet shrub rose 'will Scarlet' sticking through. The peonies touch the roses on one side and touch the irises on the other. There are tall blues like 'Pacific Panorama' and soft yellows like 'New Moon' and some yellow and cream ones I raised from seed, and 'Amethyst Flame' and the soft enormous lavender-blue 'Kentucky Hills' and some full yellows like 'Foxfire' and even a couple of hotter deeper yellows and whites like 'Ermine Robe' and 'Celestial Snow.'
The irises are mainly soft colors-there are a good many stalks of the full rich purple 'Matinata' and the even darker 'Grand Alliance,' two of the most perfect and magnificient of all irises-and the effect please me.
Irises, peonies and roses planted at random tend to be delightful, and it would be a terrible error to give new gardeners the impression that only certain verieties look good together.
I have a personal whim or notion or opinion that 'Mme. Gregoire Staechelin' is the finest of all pink climbing roses, though she blooms only in spring.
But that is no more (and I hasten to add, no less) than my personal opinion. I like 'Belle of Portugal' almost as well, and 'Blossomtime' is a pink with a finer stronger scent than the two of them put together, and moreover casts this scent on the air so you don't have to stick your noise in the flower. Besides all that, its flowers are of very heavy texture, satin-petaled or waxy, with beautiful buds, and they are produced steadily in small numbers all summer until frost. It is a pink climber utterly without fault or reproach.
What should be avoided are roses that do not really excite you. Unfortunately, since the capital is so poor and does not have a rose society able to manage such a thing (as other cities do) there is no fine public rose garden where gardeners could see roses in great variety.
The National Arboretum is so busy with its damned altheas, etc., that it has no energy to spare on roses, and the eighth wonder of the world is why anybody likes altheas.
But the real point is that we ought to have a public rose garden, and I suppose you are weary of hearing me point out the obvious.
Not only are there peonies at the National Arboretum, but they are brilliantly grown, and one should drop everything and go see them instantly before their fleeting flowers are gone.
For some years I have noticed that whatever the maintenance problems may be in parts of the arboretum, the peonies have had everything a peony could want. When you see this, you know that the peony has a friend at court who does not give way when it comes to the welfare of his favorites.
The irises have a very small planting, which may grow into something worth looking at, though a collection of 1,000 varieties superbly grown requires more energy and care than the capital can manage. I hardly expect to see the trifling rose (which nevertheless a few people still admire) exalted to the rank of the althea in a public garden, yet there never was a town with so many people on fire to erect memorials to themselves, and a rose garden would be a possibility. CAPTION: Picture, no caption, The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art