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Janice Wells: The long life of peonies

This peony is contained, almost, by a tomato cage.
This peony is contained, almost, by a tomato cage. - Janice Wells photo

Or why I’m missing the old version of 'Coronation Street'

What do peonies and “Coronation Street” (the show, not the street) have in common? Well, not a lot really, except they both are very long-lived. This week I am inspired to write about both because I have been sitting in the sun porch catching up on recorded episodes of “Coronation Street” and admiring the peonies outside.

First the peonies. I once saw a huge peony in Woody Point that was said to be over 100 years old. A friend had a piece of land in Frenchman’s Cove with a peony blooming every year in grass that had never been cut. 

A backyard peony left to sprawl.
A backyard peony left to sprawl.

Peonies are fussy about the depth they’re planted and don’t like being moved, but if they’re happy they just keep on going for decades with the most amazing blooms. Experts say they need high potassium and don’t like a lot of nitrogen. They recommend a little winter protection in cold climates and say that peonies will not tolerate heavy mulch in early spring.

The thick grass almost smothering the peony in Frenchman’s Cove must have had a somewhat mulching effect, and I’ve never known one to be covered in the winter in Newfoundland. We certainly qualify as a cold climate. In terms of growing zones we range through Zone 5 down to Zone 3, depending on what chart you look at and where you are on the island and then of course there are micro-climates.

Not fussy at all

I think that when they thrive and live for so long with no attention, they are not being fussy at all. If you’ve never grown them I wouldn’t be a bit worried about trying them. They sometimes take a couple of years to bloom if the root is small or they’ve been transplanted from another place.

Tree peonies are becoming more popular. They’re a little less hardy; more Zone 5 than 3 and grow, as the name suggests, on a woody stem. I’ve never grown one, but as you can see from the picture above they can certainly thrive in our climate. I couldn’t find information about how long they might live here, maybe because nobody knows yet.

Young tree peony, photo courtesy of Bob Bennett.
Young tree peony, photo courtesy of Bob Bennett.

I will use that to segue into “Coronation Street “because nobody knows how long that will last either. I’ve been watching for more than 50 years but unlike peonies, it’s not getting better with age.

It used to be so lifelike. Janine and I were always saying “That’s just how it would happen” and “that’s exactly what I would have done.”

Then they started going after the American audience and a younger demographic, and the most watched serial in the world became a soap opera. Oh, I still watch, more out of habit than anything else but yesterday at least I had beautiful peonies to add realism to my leisure time.

Spoiler alert

If you’re not up to date this is a spoiler alert.

I turned on my PVR and Michelle and Robert were locked in a freezer, Steve gave Tracy the engagement ring he had given Karen, Ecckles was poisoned by slug bait in a sausage, Jack is on life support from a scraped knee, Sarah smacks Ryan and he ends up collapsing, Kate gets drunk at lunchtime, Beth is an undercover agent in the factory and David proposes to Shana in the cafe.

I’m not sure if that was over one or two episodes, but if it was two I’d have to include something about Peter leaving Toya because she tried to pass Eva’s baby off as his from a surrogate.

Oh for the days of Annie Walker and Elsie Tanner. If you know of such as thing as a channel that carries “Coronation Street” from the very beginning, please let me know. I will give you my first born. Will I ‘eck as like. (That’s Corrie speak for I won’t) But I’ll stand you a pint, mate.

Janice Wells lives in St. John’s. She can be reached at

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