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Harmonies in the garden: The 'Three Tenors plus One'

Peonies, Irises, Lilies and Day Lilies bring color and form to the garden

Big. Bold. Beautiful.

The words have been used to describe the voices of operatic tenors like Placido Domingo, José Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti.

And, said horticulturalist Ken Brown, they also describe the mainstays of a perennial garden.

Brown, speaking at the Innisfil Garden Club on Monday night, talked about the “Three Tenors Plus One” of gardening that bring structure, colour, and season-long blooms to a garden, year after year: peonies, irises, lilies and day lilies.

A horticultural consultant, writer, photographer and garden blogger, Brown has filled his property in Whitby with varieties of all four “tenors,” but admitted, “Of the four, I have a favourite, and it’s the iris.”

At one time, he grew 100 varieties in his own garden, from the bulbous Irises that are among the first to bloom in spring, to late-blooming bearded and Japanese irises, and end-of-season spuria.

Brown shared details of the evolution of the “tenors.” Thanks to modern breeding and hybridization, there is a riot of new colour combinations, forms and shapes, that offer spectacular choices for today’s gardeners.

Peonies, for example, have come a long way over the years. “Everybody’s grandmother had big old peonies growing in their gardens,” Brown said, raised mostly for their large blooms, perfect for flower arrangements but limited in their longevity.

Now there are singles, doubles, semi-doubles, frilled blooms, peonies with “wonderful bright yellow stamens that contrast with the petals,” tree peonies that offer both blooms and fall foliage with “tremendous” colour, ‘Species’ peonies in unusual colours.

As for day lilies, they may have begun with the common orange “Ditch Lily” Hemerocallis fulva, but they now offer hybrids in colours that range from deepest burgundy to yellow and “near-white,” and petal forms that can be recurved and frilled.

It all provides gardeners with greater variety, and the opportunity to “orchestrate” the colour in their garden over the span of a growing season.

“We have choices. We have lilies, we have day lilies, we have peonies, we have irises,” Brown said, and with proper planning, “Every day, when you go outside, something is in bloom!”

Brown admitted that not every variety he has planted has been wholly successful. Some plants have “disappeared,” from growing season to growing season - falling prey to garden pests like the iris borer or the red lily bug, or simply the wrong location – but he was philosophical about the losses.

As he told the gardeners, “The difference between the beginning gardener and an experienced gardener is, the experienced gardener has killed more plants!”

Between spectacular slides and helpful gardening tips, Brown made the argument that every garden benefits when the “Three Tenors plus One” of horticulture are part of the harmony.

The Innisfil Garden Club is hosting the Lucy Valente Memorial Spring Flower Show and Tea this Saturday, May 14, at the Churchill Community Centre on Yonge Street, named in memory of the Late Lucy Valente, former president of the club. Members are asked to bring in flower show entries from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. for judging; show and tea room will be open to the public from noon to 1:30 p.m. Tea and a Light Lunch are only $7 per person.

On Saturday, May 28, the Club will be holding their annual Plant Sale and Bake Sale at the South Innisfil Arboretum, 25 Sideroad and ShoreAcres Drive in Innisfil, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. The community is invited to drop by, to purchase perennials, annuals, herbs, vegetables, native and pollinator plants, house and tropical plants donated by members, and great home baking – and join the club!

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Miriam King

About the Author: Miriam King

Miriam King is a journalist and photographer with Bradford Today, covering news and events in Bradford West Gwillimbury and Innisfil.
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