Martha's Peony Garden

For Martha Stewart and her extraordinary ambitions – at home and at work – history has often been a reliable and inspiring guide. It was Elizabeth Von Arnim’s 1898 novel, for instance (Elizabeth And Her German Garden) which inspired Martha Stewart’s vast peony garden at her main residence in Bedford, New York. The peony garden at Bedford is located not far from the front of the home, adjacent to the Summer House and the stables. This is the time of year it really starts to shine - bursting into bloom and supplying the farm with luxuriant bouquets and the most intoxicating fragrance. Below, you will see many photographs of the peony garden in various stages of growth throughout the seasons.
Photo by Frederic Lagrange from Martha's Entertaining.

Elizabeth and Her German Garden, the novel that Martha based her plans upon, is semi-autobiographical and charts the horticultural struggles and triumphs of a high-society protagonist interested in creating a lavish garden on her property. At her estate in Pomerania, Von Arnim had created an enormous, circular bed of peonies sheltered within a tall hedge that formed the perimeter to protect the delicate petals from damaging winds. The circle was more than 300 feet across and Von Arnim’s two daughters were said to have spent many of their summer days enjoying this little paradise, picking the stems for pretty bouquets indoors.

Taking a second look at Martha’s peony garden, then, and the inspiration becomes clear. Martha's peony garden has been planted with eleven double rows of 22 herbaceous peony plants, 44 in each row of the same variety. She chose varieties that came in shades of pink (Von Arnim thought red peonies to be “vulgar”) ensuring various flower types: single, semi-double, double and anemone-type blossoms. She staggered their plantings to prolong the blooming season: some bloom earlier than others, extending the amount of time the plants are in blossom. All of the plants were purchased from a single nursery: Klehm’s Song Sparrow Nursery in Avalon, Wisconsin.  Also, just as Von Arnim described in her book, Martha has sheltered her garden within a hedge of rounded boxwood shrubs.

Martha was so pleased with the results of her peony garden that she began a new tradition: an annual Peony Party! I’ve often imagined how intoxicating the beautiful scent must be when the beds are in full bloom. Peony fragrance is one of my favourites.
Peonies play a starring role at Martha's annual Peony Party at Bedford. Photo by Frederic Lagrange from Martha's Entertaining.
Peonies are glorious flowers: fragrant and beautiful. They love sunshine and plenty of moisture. These ones in Martha's garden appear to be reaching for the first rays of dawn. Keeping the flowers upright and looking their best, however, requires some TLC, as Martha's photos of her garden, below, will prove.
These neat rows are the herbaceous peony beds in early March. A herbaceous plant is one that has leaves and stems that die down at the end of the growing season to the soil level.
In this photo, taken in late April, 2012, string supports are being laced through the eyes of metal stakes. These supports will keep the heavy flower heads from drooping to the ground once they bloom.
The boxwood 'mounds' that shelter the garden - creating a kind of peony room - are just starting to leaf out in this late April scene.
This is the peony garden viewed from a distance. The boxwood enclosure is nicely visible.
 Looking down towards the stables in early June, many of the blooms are visible.

This photo of the garden, looking towards the Winter House in late spring, reveals Martha's carefully planned selection of peony species, which bloom at different times: half of the peonies are in bloom while the other half are still budding. This ensures a very long picking season for arrangements.
 The peony garden in full bloom, looking towards the Summer House.
I can only imagine how fragrant this garden must be!
Martha often makes single-blossom arrangements with her peonies. The heads are so large and elaborate that they shine brilliantly on their own.


Kenn said...

My favorite flower.. and one of my favorite places in Martha's garden. Oh, to have all that space!

Bill- Chi said...

Perfect Timing! Can you imagine the scent of that garden? Just Fantastic!

Rowaida said...

Hi Andrew,
Wow my favourite flower.
Martha's beautiful peonies garden is amazingly gorgeous .
I can't wait to return to london at this time to see all the peonies blooming.