Things are weird at the moment, I think you’ll agree. For those of us lucky enough to have stayed healthy during this pandemic, we’ve been affected in a different way with everything up in the air and a lot of plans we’ve made having to change. Well, last week, we were meant to be in Miami and Key West celebrating my husband’s 50th. Instead we were at home wondering what to do without our time off work. I had been wanting to visit Little Budds Farm in Kent since last year but since peony season is so short, there was no point in visiting until the flowers were in bloom – and it so happened that they would be in bloom on our week off! So I contacted Kate who owns the farm with her husband, John, to ask if I could visit and off we went!
It was a long drive for us from Peterborough but it was SO worth it! Little Budds Farm is a peony lover’s idea of heaven with over 7,000 peonies laid out by variety.
We had perfect weather on the day we went, warm and sunny with clear blue skies for miles so it was perfect to walk around the plants and inhale the sweet peony scent which the breeze was blowing across the field. We spent ages just wandering around looking at all the beautiful flowers, and after being so restricted throughout lockdown, it was like a dream to walk around the flowery paradise.
After we walked through the field, we then went back to the main building where we chose a couple of peony plants to take home. I could have taken them all but I went with Florence Nicholls and Angel Cheeks. I really wanted Etched Salmon but there weren’t any plants of this so I’m adding it to my list for the future.
I also then walked with Kate to the Coral Charm section of the farm to pick some cut flowers and we chatted about her top tips for successfully growing peonies and how to get the most out of your plants which I’m going to share with you too! But be warned that peony growing is not for the faint hearted.
- Look after your peony from the beginning and you’ll be rewarded in the long term. When planting them, they should be no more than 2 inches deep.
- They like some drainage so don’t let them get waterlogged, but they do nee lots of water when spring arrives.
- To get a big bushy plant with really large flowers and strong stems, you have to be ruthless and disbud the plant for at least the first three years of growing. Kate disbuds hers for five years as she wants her plants to be as big and productive as possible as they are working plants not just garden treats! This is to encourage the plant to grow as big as it can – without flower buds, it’ll put all it’s energy back into its root which will in turn help to create a bigger plant each year it returns. I spent ages picking a plant with a few buds and then they were removed – it gave me such a shock to see them snipped off but when Kate explained, I understood the importance of this. As a “treat” she allowed me to keep one bud on the plant so I could at least see what it would look like this season and I could cut it once it bloomed as long as I didn’t remove too much of the stem.
- When your peony has reached maturity and you’re ready to start cutting from it, you should still disbud it by a third. Look for the smaller buds that seem slower and chop those off. Don’t cut the whole stem as they need their leaves to absorb energy, just chop the head off with your snips! Interestingly, not one of Kate’s plants had supports and I only saw a couple of stems laying on the ground. She said it’s because she disbuds so the plant can put energy into being as strong as it can be so they don’t actually need supports.
- Peonies need a sunny spot to bask in for the whole summer. They need the sun for energy so if your plant is in a shady spot, it won’t grow back as well the following year, and it’s possible it may not get any buds at all.
- All peonies die right back in the late Summer/Autumn. I got a fright with mine last year as I thought I had somehow killed it! Once it has finished dying back, then cut off all the foliage to 2 inches above ground level and remove the dead foliage.
Due to the current situation, they’ve had to do their open days slightly differently this year to restrict the amount of visitors at any one time. Time slots have been available to book (free of charge) and they were so popular, they’ve added more and more dates, with each selling out pretty quickly. Keep your eyes peeled for the open days next year which are likely to be at the end of May/beginning of June and get yourself down there to experience the magic of a peony field. We had a fantastic time and would like to thank Kate for letting us visit on a day they were closed.