Prized for their blowsy, glamorous blooms and glossy, deeply cut foliage, peonies are held in deep affection by many gardeners, despite their short flowering season and vulnerability to peony wilt in damp weather. It's easy to see why. From the promise of early spring, when their red, mottled shoots push through bare earth and the handsome foliage unfurls from spherical red buds, to early summer, when the huge flowers burst open, peonies exert a fascination that few can resist. 'Duchesse de Nemours' has huge, bowl-shaped pure white, fragrant, double flowers, flushed green in bud, from early to midsummer. This classic, double-flowered peony from the mid nineteenth century is a favourite of the cut-flower trade. It will thrive in full sun or partial shade. Fill the bare ground around the peony before the leaves appear with spring bulbs to prolong the season of interest.
Garden care: Deadhead after flowering. In early spring apply a top dressing of a balanced slow release fertiliser around the base of the plant and mulch with well-rotted compost or manure. If the plant shows signs of collapse or the leaves become spotty, this may be a symptom of peony botrytis. Remove affected leaves immediately. In the autumn, cut off all the foliage and dispose of it to prevent reinfection the following spring.