Peonies vs. Tomatoes—Discuss | Letter from the Editor

Fine Gardening – Issue 217
gateway plant
Left: Danielle's favorite peony cultivar, ‘Sword Dance’. Photo: Danielle Sherry. Right: ‘Veranda Red’ cherry tomatoes from Scott Daigre's dwarf tomatoes article. Photo: courtesy of Scott Daigre

Folks often say that tomatoes are the gateway plants to becoming a gardener. The idea is that people get truly hooked on this hobby of ours once they grow something they can eat. And homegrown tomatoes . . . well, there’s something truly magical about picking a handful of ‘Sun Gold’ cherry tomatoes and popping them into your mouth.

But tomatoes weren’t my gateway plant. That honor belongs to peonies.

I grew up in a family that gardened quite a bit, but most of our energy was spent on the vegetable beds. That meant there were obligatory chores that came from the maintenance of those plots, like endless hours of weeding in the hot August sun. Perhaps it’s because of these core traumas—I mean memories—that I never looked to tomatoes as a reason to start gardening for myself. Instead, it was while watering 2-gallon pots of ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ peonies at the local garden center that I caught the gardening bug. I fell instantly in love with the huge, fragrant, blousy blooms of that alluring perennial. Using my next paycheck, I purchased one and brought it home to plant. The rest is history.

As the years went by, I became a homeowner, planted a garden, moved, planted another garden, and so on. But I always made sure to have a few peonies in the mix. I’ve heard all the arguments against them: a short bloom time, a susceptibility to botrytis, the large price tag, etc. To me these are all things that can be overlooked. Peonies are stunning while in bloom, and if you stagger your varieties, the show can extend for several weeks. A little garden cleanup in fall around their crowns, and diseases can easily be avoided. And if you think peonies are expensive, I have two words for you: Japanese maples.

And let us not forget that peonies are reasonably deer resistant, which you can read more about in 32 Plants for Sun and Shade That the Deer Won’t Devour. In that feature article, author Karen Chapman extols the virtues of numerous plants deer avoid, and one of those happens to be her favorite peony, ‘Coral Charm’.

In another feature article, Dwarf Tomatoes Produce Abundant Fruit With a Small Plant, you’ll read all about Scott Daigre’s affinity for dwarf tomatoes. For Scott (as for many of you, I’m sure), tomatoes were the gateway plant into gardening. He has maintained that youthful adoration into adulthood, writing books and lecturing extensively on the subject and even orchestrating Tomatomania!, the world’s largest tomato seedling sale.

I’d still take a peony any day over a tomato plant—and that’s saying something, because I love BLTs. True garden beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I guess.

However, find me a deer-proof tomato and maybe I’ll rethink my stance.

—Danielle Sherry, executive editor

Danielle Sherry

Issue 217 is available to read now

See the articles Danielle references in her letter:

32 Plants for Sun and Shade That the Deer Won’t Devour

Dwarf Tomatoes Produce Abundant Fruit With a Small Plant

Web Extras from Issue #217

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