Of all the shrubs that flower in spring, azaleas and tree peonies make for one of the most brilliant displays. I have them planted together en masse in a lightly wooded area where they will get filtered sunlight, something they both prefer. When they bloom together in May, they make the corner of my farm so spectacular.
Tree peonies are woody perennial shrubs that do not die down to the ground in autumn like the herbaceous peony. Their woody structure allows them to produce gigantic dinner-plate-sized flowers on plants that grow from 3 to 7 feet tall. After they bloom, tree peonies provide structure to the garden with deep green leaves in summer and bronze and purple foliage in fall. A few of my favorite varieties are ‘Lavender Grace,’ Momoyama,’ and ‘Savage Splendor.’
While the beauty and elegance of peonies could seem intimidating to a novice gardener, growing them is much easier than you might think. Deer won’t bother them, they’re disease-resistant, so they don’t need pesticides, and once established, they don’t need a lot of water. Tree peonies do grow slowly, producing 1 to 6 inches of new growth each year, so you will need patience. But given well-drained soil and dappled sunlight, they will live for centuries.
Azaleas can thrive in a wide variety of growing conditions, which makes them useful in many different landscapes and rarely, if ever, will an insect or disease do serious damage to vigorous azalea. Azaleas prefer organically formed acidic soil, constant moisture with good drainage, filtered sunlight, and heavy mulch. Mulching protects their extremely shallow roots from the heat of summer and the cold of winter. A combination of pine needles and oak leaves is especially good for mulching. The needles are high in acidity but slow in decaying. The oak leaves decay more rapidly and, while lower in acidity, are higher in food value.