, Muskogee, OK

May 8, 2014

Peony patch gets ready for Mother’s Day visitors

By Molly Day
All the Dirt on Gardening

— Henry Chotkowski, the “Peony Man,” is having his annual Mother’s Day party at 1-5 p.m. Sunday. He and his wife, Karen, open their acre of blooming peonies to the public for the day and provide refreshments to the hundreds of visitors who come to enjoy peak peony season. Their garden is in the rolling hills 10 miles west of Fayetteville, Ark.

Before shopping for peonies, it is a good idea to know a little bit about what you want for your garden.

There are two types of peonies or paeonia: the herbaceous type that dies to the ground every year and the woody type that has shrub-like branches and stems.

Three-feet tall is typical for peonies, but some are shorter than 2 feet and others grow 4 to 5 feet tall.

Peony flower colors range from white to deep red with many pinks and corals in between.

Peony flower forms include saucer- or bowl-shaped singles with whorls of five to 10 petals; semi-doubles with two or three layers of those whorls; doubles with narrower overlapping petals; and Japanese or anemone form with single or semi-double flowers in which the stamens are replaced by petal-like petaloids or staminodes.

Hardy from zones 3 to 8, they are fairly easy to grow in the right conditions.

“Tree peonies like some shade in the afternoon, and most of the dark colors fade in full sun,” Chotkowski said. “You can have six weeks of peony flowers by planting early, mid-season and late-blooming varieties.”

Chotkowski Gardens has 1,200 cultivars. Chotkowski’s interest in peonies began in 1988 when he assisted a grower in Manassas, Va., where he and his wife were living. When they moved back to Arkansas in 1996, they brought 600 plants with them.

When putting in new plants, Chotkowski recommends digging a hole 18 inches wide and 18 inches deep and filling it with a combination of soil and compost. If the ground around the planting hole is particularly heavy, sand can be added to the mix to improve drainage.

“I’ve heard that adding wood ashes is good for them, but I have never used it,” Chotkowski said. “Also, a little fertilizer can be added, but only the smallest amount at the dripline after the plant is in the ground two or three years. The best time is just after they emerge in the spring.

“We never water the garden,” Chotkowski said. “The amount of rain during the previous summer is what makes this year’s flower buds.”

Peonies need a minimum of six hours of sun for best flowering in our area. Farther north, eight hours of sun is the recommended minimum.

Some of the flowers we saw last week included Phoenix White; Baiyu, which is a double white; Shimanishiki Tree Peony, with pink and red flowers; and Golden Wings, with large peach flowers.

One of Chotkowski’s mid-season beauties is Red Charm, and the late season varieties he suggested are Myra McRae and Pink Radiance.

Many basic growing questions are answered on the American Peony Society website (, and there is a helpful site called Peony Bloom Date ( that lists the cultivars by bloom date.

If you go

WHAT: Chotkowski Gardens.

WHERE: 16142 Pin Oak Road, Fayetteville, Ark.

WHEN: Open in May. Annual Mother’s Day Party, 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday.

INFORMATION: (479) 587-8920 and