Meet: Elizabeth Rundle, peony-lover
'Boreas'. Photo - Richard and Elizabeth Rundle
Peonies seduced Elizabeth Rundle when she was just 16. She’s been a fan ever since, growing and selling tree peonies through a mail-order nursery, first in Canberra and now in Ballarat. Here she shares her story.
When did you fall for peonies?
It was May 17, 1970 at 2pm! That’s when I walked into the peony garden in Sukagawa in Fukashima prefecture in Japan. I can’t tell you exactly what it was that appealed, but I walked into the park, saw the peonies and just went ‘Ahh, you are so beautiful!’ The Sukagawa peony garden is the largest in Japan; there are thousands of peonies, some of them a few hundred years old. It was the colour and the form that grabbed me I think, and they look so ethereal and delicate.
What were you doing in Japan?
I was an exchange student and we went along to the Sukagawa garden because the emperor was coming to see the peonies. Mine was the only blonde head in the crowd!
And so peony love was born?
Yes and I came back to Australia and talked peonies, and people would look at me like I was an idiot. They were not well-known then, and they are still not was widely grown as they should be considering how beautiful they are and how easy they are to grow.
Paeonia rockii. Photo - Richard and Elizabeth Rundle
So what to do we need to know?
Tree peonies need it cold, and herbaceous peonies need it even colder. Tree peonies will grow through the Southern Highlands and around Bathurst and Orange in NSW, in Canberra, through Victoria and even in the mountains in Queensland.
Herbaceous peonies are best where it’s really cold – like Mount Macedon. I know that in Adelaide some gardeners put ice cubes on their herbaceous peonies to try to reproduce enough cold to set the flower buds, without much success I fear.
So if you have the right climate for tree peonies what else do you need to know?
They flower from about mid-August until Melbourne Cup Day, and need to be fed just twice a year – on Anzac Day and Melbourne Cup Day. You don’t prune them. They grow slowly and you can just let them be, though you can cut out any dead wood in spring when they start to burst if you like. All you need to do really is admire them. There’s nothing like walking out in the morning and seeing the buds just starting to show what they are going to be, and then seeing them a few days later, fully out in all their beauty. It just makes you sigh.
And if you don’t live where it’s cold enough?
Well, you could move! Otherwise you could grow the peony-like David Austin roses, or simply find yourself a B&B with a garden full of lovely peonies and spend a weekend luxuriating every spring!
'Hanakisoi'. Photo - Richard and Elizabeth Rundle