The old peony 'Edulis Superba' produced a far better than usual flower for me this year, but I am ashamed of my peonies this year. They show the sw,-2 sk,1 disgraceful neglect they have suffered.
They are all blooming, but they are far from showing their true splendor, simply because I allowed weeds to strangle them for several months in the past two years.
Fortunately, if I ever get out there -- other people have 24 hours a day but I seem to have less -- I know how to revive them.
Years ago I rented a house in which some half-dead peonies were found. I pulled weeds away, kept the soil scratched, watered every week or two and gave very discreet (starting with a couple of tablespoons) doses of dehydrated cow manure and an occasional teaspoon of Epsom salts. Within a year the peony (which was the old red-flecked white 'Festiva Maxima') showed great improvement and within another year or so produced 20 nice stems and magnificent huge flowers.
Peonies are tolerant, which is why you find them in old gardens when everything else is gone except a gnarled rose or two, but they are organic creatures and cannot live without light and water. A few weeks of smothering by bindweed, a horror repeated two years in a row, will damage even the most robust established peony.
I mention this shame in case you notice your own peonies have "gone back" a good bit from their former state, and to assure you that a little continuing care will work wonders.
Another old pink kind, 'Monsieur Jules Elie,' has been rather swamped by a vigorous rose, the old Portland variety called 'Jacques Cartier' or 'Marquise Bocella' (two names but one rose) so that the two are tangled in a smother of silver-pink bloom. Very pretty, to my eye, but the rose must be hauled back off the peony as soon as flowering ends.
People sometimes ask about rooting clematis, which I take to be a simple matter. The trouble comes from the accidents liable to occur in the year or two years elapsing between the time the cuttings are taken and the time they may safely be planted out to take care of themselves.
You take a clematis leaf with the stem it is on. About an inch or inch and a half of stem. Down to the first node below your leaf. That is, down to where the leaf below your leaf sprouts from the stem.
Then you cut off the lower leaf entirely, and you cut off the central leaflet (there are three leaflets making the leaf) of the leaf you keep. You mix one part good loam, two parts peat moss and three parts sand and sterilize this. (Boil, bake or any way you like.) Of course this is done before you take the cuttings, and once the soil mixture is in pots and firmed down a little, you push the little clematis stems in, down to the point the leaflets barely clear the soil.
Now you keep them from wilting. A plastic bag over the pot will do, if you don't have a propagating unit. Christopher Lloyd, a great authority on clematis, says they do not respond well to mist systems.
If you use a plastic bag over the pot, hold the plastic up with small sticks set in the soil mixture. You do not want the plastic pressing down on the small cuttings.
Within three or four weeks the cuttings should root, I believe, though that should make no great difference to you, because you leave them in the pot -- you do not even dream of transplanting them when they are small.
Once you see new growth (or even earlier if you see any signs of rot or damping off or fungus, take the plastic off. Do this gradually, if you can, so the little plants get used to the changed air about them.
If you take the cuttings right this instant (as you should) you keep them in the pot until next spring or even fall after next, then plant them in larger pots. If they have been in the pot more than a year, plant them directly into the garden.
You want to give them all the light you can, short of having them wilt and wither. Mine at the moment are on a table in a sort of garden arbor covered pretty much with vines. The east sun hits them, then the vines shade them through most of the day, but the light is fairly strong.
Once they are growing vigorously you give them little sticks to grow on. Some will grow more quickly than others. You need to use common sense, but more than that you need to pay attention to such things as cats knocking over the pots, or going away for two weeks -- somebody will have to keep the pots watered.
I do not begrudge propagators a good price for producing garden plants. They earn it. But if you want to try, it certainly doesn't cost anything, and you may like having a dozen of your favorite clematis rather than just one. If you really get going and have success, you could give plants to gardeners just getting started.
I might add that despite the usual spring misery of thunderstorms just as the irises and roses hit their stride, I have been pleased with the great seven-inch blooms of the white clematis 'Henryi' sprinkled throughout a couple of branches of the pink climbing rose 'Mme. Gregoire Staechelin.'
I rooted the clematis about three years ago by layering -- that is, taking a trailing stem of clematis plant and setting a brick on it, on the ground. After a year it is rooted (beneath the brick) and is cut off from the main plant, dug up and moved where you want it.