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Check whom your source of information is
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

August 12, 2018

Above, generally the earliest peonies to bloom are the fern-leaf types such as this one ‘Scout’; and tree peonies are often considered the most difficult to transplant. Below, two common herbaceous perennial peonies are P. lactifolia ‘Kiev’ and P. l. ‘London’. Author photos.




I believe a couple of recent incidents that occurred while I was writing about other topics are worth commenting upon here. This has to do with how incorrect information gets widely distributed, and most often without challenge.

In one scenario, an article was submitted to a magazine by a serious writer with both journalistic and horticultural experience. Let me just take two of the points made by the author, and discuss my changes.

The original copy said "Most plants divide best in early spring or fall; consult a reputable garden reference book to be sure." Now, the item was about moving gardens and the plants in them (not about dividing). I changed that paragraph to read: "Most perennials divide best in early spring or fall; but the vast majority can be transplanted at almost any time during the growing season."

The author wrote to object to my editing, saying "Suggesting you can move most perennials at almost any time during the growing season seems to contradict what I stated above about early spring or fall divisions, and certainly contradicts what my references say. You should NOT (her emphasis) move any plant about to flower or in its flowering period, when all its energies are going into producing flowers/seeds, or it will suffer a serious setback. It’s not a good idea to move a plant during extremely hot, dry weather, either, since that will put the plant under severe stress. It seems irresponsible to ignore that advice and state that moving anytime is fine."

My response to this author, it has been suggested, should be brought to the attention of gardeners generally. "If you truly believe you can only move herbaceous perennials in spring or fall, you’ve been reading the wrong books, and talking to people who really have not experimented. Talk to people such as John Valleau at Heritage Perennials, who do not make hard and fast rules such as that. Much of what you say about setback and stress is true, but it does not mean moving cannot be done. It certainly can, and with a very high percentage of success. On this subject, be aware, there is a considerable difference between moving perennials and dividing them. You were writing about moving them."

Of seven items about which the author wrote, objecting to my editing, the second was about peonies. She originally wrote, "Your friends triumphs notwithstanding, peonies hate to be moved. Worse, they won’t flower again if they’re not planted at exactly the right soil level. This plant’s fleshy roots are also easily damaged when disturbed."

Having personally transplanted hundreds of peony bushes in over three decades of gardening, I felt I had to add a little to that negative piece of information. Due to a lack of space, we were only able to add a short sentence: "The best time to move peonies is in August."

The author wrote complaining, "Why suggest people move peonies in August, when the text has just finished warning that peonies don’t move happily at all?"

My response to her was this: "The single best time to move peonies is in August. That is a fact, regardless of what any other 'expert' or book may tell you! You might wish to talk to John Simkins, president of the newly founded Canadian Peony Society. I felt it necessary to add the point. It’s a little known fact that is important. I don’t entirely agree with you that peonies don’t like to be moved. In my gardening career I have personally moved probably over 300 peony plants virtually all successfully. Perhaps I should have made more extensive changes and re-moved your statement ‘hate to be moved.’"

The point in all this is that while we’re dealing with Mother Nature and there are probably at least two distinctly different ways of doing almost everything, we have to guard against being too negative and steadfast. If you read or hear of differing opinions on plant hardiness, when and how to do something, or any other gardening recommendations, try to check out just who is saying what, and if possible, why. Differing opinions are one thing, but statements based on incorrect information are another. And, there’s an awful lot of incorrect information in this field out there.

I’ll be keeping my eyes and ears peeled for other examples of false data that may set you on a wrong course.


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