MRS. F. D. Roosevelt' has weak stems and does not smell as fine as it might, but otherwise is a superlative soft pink peony, and the truth is that peonies do not vary as much as the beginning gardener might suppose.
The varieties are different, of course, varying in size, color tone, foliage, height and spread of plant, number of petals and so on; but when all is said and done, the color range is quite narrow for so major a garden plant, and the blooming season in particularly short.
I might personally commend 'Red Charm,' which has a clarity rare among red peonies, a very fine fully double bloom, exceptionally strong stems, and most important of all, an early blooming season, two or three weeks ahead of most garden peonies. You can have it with the late daffodils, and 'Red Charm' is finished by the time the midseason garden irises come into flower.
In a small garden, where only a few plants can be fitted in, it is splendid for early color followed perhaps by 'Monsieur Jules Elie,' a silvery pink with enough blue in it to make the color carry well in the landscape, and then perhaps an even later-blooming peony like the pink 'Myrtle Gentry.' Thus a scant three plants would represent peonies in the small place for more than a month.
After they bloom, their leaves remain handsome until frost -- not spectacular or gorgeous, mind you, but satisfying and solid looking.
Entirely too often -- though this is a much more serious problem of the large garden than the small one -- the foliage of garden plants all runs together, to give a dull effect, even if the individual plants happen to be beautiful.
A clump of peony bushes contrasted with a little patch (all that can be managed in a small place in town) of tall bearded irises will do much to prevent that flimsy insubstantial look we wind up with if we do not plan against it.
Another good plant for general effect, as well as its chest-high spikes of lavender-blue pea-like blooms in late May, is the false indigo, Baptisia. Its leguminous leaves have a slightly blue and glaucous look, and it behaves well, coming back every year without fuss or bother.
This is the time to say a good word for our common blue swamp iris, too, which you can see in low land around Great Falls or in boggy places off the Chesapeake Bay or indeed anywhere else that bulldozers have not feasted.
In beauty it yields nothing to the Japanese or Siberian irises, and it is largely ignored only because nurserymen do not bother with it. I have grown it in fairly dry, fairly shady spots, where it consents to bloom like an old trooper. I am not sure old troopers bloom, but you get the point.
Other neglected sorts of iris are the spurias, and I do not think the Latin slur of "bastard" is much held against them in an age so indifferent to language in general. What has harmed the spurias, I think, is that so many varieties bred for gardens do not in fact bloom. I have grown a number of the older sorts, 'Wadi Zem-Zem,' and so on and never had a flower from them in six years in Tennesee, and I notice references from time to time from other gardeners equally annoyed.
But it is a question of finding where they are happy. Some of the even older spurias, like 'Azure Dawn' bloom their heads off and indeed increase a bit too much.
But one I like better than most is the wild species, I. ochraleuca, with white flowers (each like a Dutch iris of the florists) with yellow blotch, and exceptionally good stiff foliage. Similiar, except it is solid yellow, is I. ochraurea , a hybrid of two wild sorts. It is said to bloom more freely than some of the other yellow spurias but like most of them it takes several years to settle down.
None of the spurias or Japanese or Siberian or swamp sorts will take drying out. They will grow in ordinary borders without special watering, at least in wet places like Washington, but they will die if you dig them up in June, dry the roots out for a couple of months and plant them back in the fall. A surprising number of people seem to have tried this, for some reason, probably because the tall bearded or German irises are easily managed that way, enduring and even loving a good solid baking in the summer.
Two roses I always admired are 'Jacques Cartier' and 'Comte de Chambord,' which are either old (19th century, which is not very old, really) damask perpetuals or else old Portlands. Some of these rose categories are not very reliable, and many roses can be shunted from one category to another without much violence to the truth. But the two I mention are about three inches across, jam-full of maybe 125 petals, of strawberry-cream color and well perfumed, and both of them bloom off and on through the summer, not just the spring.
I never got it straight in my head which was which, though there were slight differences, and now one of them has died, so I do not know who the survivor is. Formerly I could whack a few off each bush and if anybody asked what was in that bowl of flowers I could rattle off both names.
These two roses are of the quality of 'Koenigen von Danemarck,' if you happen to know that one. None of them has long stems for cutting, by the way, but they do all right in shallow bowls or julep cups.