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Peonies in ‘peak bloom’ at Norfolk County botanical garden

  • June 16, 2022

Peonies are in peak bloom in southern Ontario — but the colourful spectacle won’t last long.

“The next 12 days is really when you want to see the most possible,” said Darren Heimbecker, head gardener at Whistling Gardens, a botanical garden in Norfolk County that boasts North America’s largest public peony collection, with nearly 1,300 different varieties to sniff and admire.

“Peak bloom” means roughly half of the 3,000 individual peony plants found throughout the 22-acre garden are currently in bloom, with new blossoms opening every day.

Heimbecker gives each peony equal care and attention. But if pressed, he will admit to a favourite variety — the Lorelei, sturdy of stem and deep pink in colour, at least when The Spectator visited on Friday.

Darren Heimbecker and pup Legolas with Darren's favourite variety of peony the Lorelei. He says he likes it the best because the colour of the flower petals change every day.

“Every 24 hours,” Heimbecker explained, “each flower changes colour.”

Over their 12-day lifespan, Lorelei blossoms transform into various hues of orange, finally ending up with ivory petals.

“I like when plants do something special every day. You get something new,” Heimbecker said.

Berry Garcia peonies in full bloom at Whistling Gardens.

The array of varieties at Whistling Gardens draws peony enthusiasts from across Ontario, Quebec and the northern United States. But Heimbecker said the venerable flower has an emotional pull, too.

“A lot of people who were immigrants to Canada grew up with them in Europe and they brought them to Canada,” he said, explaining that visiting seniors often tell him about the peonies that bloomed on the farms of their youth.

Visitors to Whistling Gardens enjoy the peonies in bloom Friday morning.

“It was just the classic thing to have,” he said.

All the peonies in Whistling Gardens’ extensive collection are donated, including rare species entrusted to Heimbecker by major players in the peony world who respect his horticultural skill and dedication.

With peonies able to live upwards of 80 years, Heimbecker is in it for the long haul.

Berry Garcia peonies in bloom at Whistling Gardens.

“There are peonies documented that are

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