There are not many flowers I would call gorgeous, but the tree peony is one of them, and since they are in flower now I should point out they are fugitive.
It depends on weather, but the individual soup-plate blooms last about four days in beauty. With heat and rainstorms, less. In cool weather, as long as a week. But they are not to be confused with those things that bloom week after endless week.
The plants are often gawky. They have woody stems that sometimes die back or freeze back, so that in old age they may attain a gnarled look like an olive tree, though the tree peony rarely grows higher than four feet.
Nothing is less probable than the flowers, not only huge but also of amazing texture and even more astonishing color. My white tree peony turned out not white but coral pink with a hint of orange, and I think well of it. Its flowers touch the deep red-purple blooms of another one in bloom now and they clash with vigor. You will notice that pinks with yellow in them often do not look good with reds with blue in them; but nobody need think I intend to move these good-sized shrubs now.
The flowers are double, or sometimes semi-double or single, but most of the ones you see in cardboard cartons for sale in early spring are double, and sometimes they are incorrectly named. As what is not, nowadays. Since the names are Japanese, the gardener promptly forgets them anyway, so the nomenclature is not so important.
I grow these three in a narrow bed raised a foot above ground along the wall of a raised fish pool. A high wood fence 10 feet to the east does much to shelter them from early sun and the pool wall shades the roots from the afternoon sun, but for several hours in between the sun strikes them. I used leaf mold lavishly in the bed and have not fertilized the plants. Since they are vulnerable to late freezes I was anxious this spring when we had an extraordinary drop to the mid-20s after some hot weather. The tree peonies were not damaged, partly (I like to think) because they are sheltered but not densely shaded.
You will notice many lilies are sprouting above the earth now. I shall not repeat my moans over the L. speciosum hybrids that were frozen black, just when they had achieved with age a great vigor equal to pokeweed; but many trumpet lilies are more cautious and are just now emerging. These should all have barriers around them, since they are brittle as glass when the shoots are six inches high. Later they are tough. I do not protect mine as they emerge, but then roar about pathetically when they are snapped off in some accident.
Surely everybody knows you pick pansies faithfully, not letting them go to seed. This does not mean you have to pick them as they open, so there are none in the garden. You can wait till they wither a little, then snap the blooms off. Beginners will make a few mistakes, since the opening flowers have a hooded look similar to the fading flowers, but in time you learn to clean off the old flowers quickly, rarely catching an opening bloom.
Pansies can have some of the sweetest of floral scents, but many or most are either scentless or lack perfume of any quality. It would be easy enough for breeders to aim at perfume, but they think nobody cares, probably. I notice the vulnerability of young pansy plants set out in October. They will stand great cold, and I lost none even in this recent bitter winter when I gave them a light "dusting" of straw and leaves, not deep enough to keep the sun off the leaves. The plants in October are very small indeed. If stepped on, they often do not recover. Also I hate to say something disgusting, but rats may come in from city alleys and nibble the shoots off in cold weather. If squirrels or dogs make a little pathway through the pansies, then those they step on will surely perish. Often cold is blamed, when the true cause of death is simply mechanical abrasion during late fall and winter.
Gardeners know better than to plant dormant rosebushes in April. They should go in in the fall or in late February, not so late as April. For all that, I planted some just before the burst of 90-degree days. I watered them every other day and syringed the stems whenever I had the chance. I have been lucky -- they are all leafing out now and should be all right, though they will require attention all summer. It is odd how long it takes beginning gardeners to notice that roses like plenty of water. Half as much fertilizer and twice as much water would be a good rule for many gardeners.
A fairly magnificent plant of the small-flowered lavender clematis, C. venosa violacea, that was chewed to pieces last Labor Day by the terrier has sent up a splendid shoot. It is surrounded with a six-foot-high wire cylinder. This shows you should always be patient when a clematis is broken or chewed to the ground. It also shows you some other things, I suppose. The great white clematis 'Henryi,' with stems thicker than broom handles, was also gnawed off at the ground last year -- a hideous sight, its great leafy stems all wilted and the stems just dangling in the air, with the overly contented mutt resting his head on the stump. It has not sent any new shoot up and I fear it won't. If such a plant is to be protected, do not fool yourself that several wooden stakes around it will suffice. They will not. Terriers can turn their heads sidewise and get between stakes. You need stout wire cylinders or something of the kind.
Humans, I hasten to say, do more damage to clematis than dogs.
This is a good time of the year to peer carefully about and see whether there is some shrub taking up more space than it's worth, and if so to dig it out. This is also a good time of the year -- improbable as it sounds -- when the ground is wet and the day is cloudy, to pull up young dogwoods six inches or a foot high that in many gardens spring up from bird droppings. Promptly planted in a new home and watered well, they come along surprisingly well. They bloom in as little as three years from these tiny creatures. I had always assumed they would require seven or 10 years, and have been surprised.