Perfect Peonies

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I think I hear over and over, that Peonies are one of the most favorited flowers around. What’s not to love? Perfect colors, a romantic cupped shape, some are even fragrant! They are not that difficult to grow, but they do have some requirements that make them a little more high maintenance than, say, petunias. But they are worth it. Amazing in the garden, and as cut flowers, here’s how to grow Perfect Peonies! (and some of our fav’s to grow!)

There are both herbaceous peonies, and tree peonies. Herbaceous are the bush kind that are the most common, and easier to grow.

Peonies live for up to 50 years, so think of them as a long term investment in your garden.

They like full sun, thrive in zones 3-8, grow 3-4 feet and bloom in May and June, depending on the variety.

If you buy peony crowns in the fall, it’s a lot like choosing healthy bulbs. Choose a crown with at least three good bugs, then plant them facing up no more than 2 inches below the soil. Number one way to keep your peony from blooming? Plant it too deep.

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Peonies like deep, fertile soil. Basically, that means before you plant your peony, dig deep, add lot’s of organic matter, and make really sure you’ve picked the right spot. They do NOT like to be transplanted. They make their home a forever home, so keep that in mind.

Peony do not have strong stems, so they tend to flop over, especially when in flower. The best way to deal with this is to create a “cage” of support just as the peony is peeking out of the ground in spring. That way, the plant grows into it’s support, gradually covers it, and never misses a beat!

At the end of the season after the plant has died back with the frost, cut back and discard the old foliage. Do not add it to your compost pile, to prevent disease.

That’s it! Love ’em and they might outlive their owners! And in the meantime, provide you with spring flowers that are beloved by both gardeners and non gardeners alike.

Here is a taste of Peony varieties that should be easily available and are good choices for any garden!

Sarah Bernhardt is one of the most planted peonies of all time, and is an old fashioned variety from the early 1900’s. It grows to 36 inches and blooms in June, and has a light fragrance.

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Festiva Maxima is another old variety that is still extremely popular, and my fav white variety. Pure white and flecked with red, growing to 36 inches.

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Raspberry Sundae is a two tone variety with a round cupped form.

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Bartzella blooms mid season, and has a rare yellow peony flower.

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Gay Paree is another bi-color peony with strong seems and a mid season bloom.

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Big Ben is a good choice for peony virgins, because of the natural vigor of the plant. Oh, and it’s fragrant!

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America is our choice for a red blooming peony. It blooms early and has a nice, strong habit.

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Finally, want to be more inspired?

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Bursting Peonies

Image Credits: Pinterest, Cloth and Kind, BHG, Pinterest




Comments

  1. Susan Deweerdt says:

    I’d like to add my favorite which is Karl Rosenfeld. I’ve had it at my old house and now at the new house for 8 years. I love the full red flowers and it never need staking.

    • Kathy Woodard says:

      Thx for the input Susan! Anyone else have a fav?

      • Donna E. says:

        Thank you for the useful info! I have loved peonies for years and have just this past week planted my first ones and they are already popping up. I have Red Supreme, Pink Hawaii and Emilie…I think I am going to be partial to the Pink Hawaii the most! ~ Donna E.

      • I love most peonies and have Itohs as well as tree and herbaceous plants in my garden. I recommend some lovely coral varieties such as Coral Sunrise, and and am hoping to acquire a Kopper Kettle Itoh from a friend this Spring. Itoh peonies are a cross between herbaceous and tree peonies.
        I would also like to say that peonies will not bloom if they are planted too deep. You should be able to see the top bulb of the root/stem joint. I do cover this up during winter.

  2. Donna E. says:

    Thank you for the information! I just planted my first peonies and am excited to see and smell those beautiful blooms…I think Pink Hawaii will be my favorite! ~ Donna E.

  3. Kathy McBride says:

    What about transplanting peonies? We are moving and I would love to take them with me. If so, when is the best time? Early spring or after they bloom?

    • Kathy Woodard says:

      Unfortunately, peonies do not like to be transplanted. At, all. They are well known as a plant that puts down deep roots that resent any kind of disturbance. Has anyone had any success with transplanting peonies?

      • Erin Bassett says:

        Hi I planted a peony last year and a few weeks ago decided to move to a better location for a long life. It has rooted and is thriving. I live in Colorado and are temps have fluctuated from the 30’s to the 80’s in the weeks since I transplanted it.

      • s jacobs says:

        I have some peonies that came from my mother-in-laws garden about 25 years ago. And before that, they came from her garden in Michigan. (We live in Illinois.) The peonies are STILL blooming every year – even though I have a brown thumb.

      • If you have to transplant a peony its best to wait until the fall when they go dormant. You will know they are dormant by the leaves turning brown and the bush being ready to be cut off for the season.

        One they are that stage cut off the bush, and carefully dig out your root. The fine feeder roots (hair like) can’t be saved, so don’t try, but the main tap root is what you need to protect. Once they are out of the ground try to keep them at about 40 degrees until replanted to maintain their dormancy (this helps prevent transplant shock).

        This is also the time you would split a peony root if it is large enough and you want to start a new bush. For splitting a root it needs to have developed at least two tap roots, with 3-5 eyes on each tap root (so the root will need to be at least 5 years old).

        After being replanted the relocated root will need a year or two to reestablish their feeder roots, so pinch off any buds they try to form at that time.

        My family has been successful with transplanting and splitting some Sarah Bernhardt roots we inherited from my great-grandfather that date back 100 years now. Sections have been divided off of it and the plant now grows in five states with various family members. A true heirloom bloom!

        • I’d like to try splitting a root next year. You refer to “3 to 5 eyes on a tap root.” What is an “eye,” and by a “tap root,” do mean a thick part of a root? I’d love to create more plants from the main one.

          • Kathy Woodard says:

            Yes, tap root is the main part of the root under the ground level… an eye is similar to the eye on a potato… Its a little knob where new branches start from. Hope that helps, good luck!

      • I moved peonies from one spot in my yard to another and they did great.

      • Yes, I’ve successfully moved an established plant from one location to another. Make sure you dig out as much of the root system as you can. I moved mine in spring, just before Summer was approaching.

      • Katy Anheuser says:

        I transplanted some about three years ago in my front yard and I gave some to my mother and mine this year were perfect as was my mothers.

      • Jessica says:

        one of my mothers friends was getting rid of a few peony plants and I took one and my mother took one. My mother’s peony plant bloom this year, we transplanted the last spring, mine did not bloom. I’m hoping that they bloom next year. Perhaps there was just too much shock to the plant.

      • Jan Kupczyk says:

        I have moved the same bushes 3 times and they did very well. All in the spring.

        Also did you know, if you cut the blooming bud when it becomes soft like a marshmallow, put it in a zip lock bag, then refrigerate, you can put them in water anytime in the next couple months (snip off cut end again) and you can have fresh blooming peonies all summer without ants.

        • Thank you JanKupczyk. Awesome tip! I will try that next summer.

          I also have transplanted Peonies with success. One I planted too deep and replanted, less deep, a few years later with great success.

      • My family has a 100 year old bush that’s been moved from Kansas City to St. Louis, then split in several locations around the city. Don’t split more than once every 6 years.

      • Lori Paoletti says:

        I have 2 beautiful bushes that I moved from the home I grew up in to my home almost 10 years ago. They didn’t bloom very much for the first 2-3 years, but since then they have been full of big beautiful flowers. The best way is, as someone here commented to stake in a cage in a circle around the base as soon as you see the shoots coming up. The bush quickly covers the cage. The flowers are heavy and this way they won’t be laying on the ground. It’s a good idea to leave cuttings laying outside to let the ants crawl out before you bring them indoors. The foliage is shiny and if you cut off the flowers after they fade you will have a pretty bush for the rest of the season. As with all Perennials, they are short lived, but well worth it.

      • I have actually transplanted mine several times! My originals were from my mom’s garden, and she’s gone now, so I can’t just leave them behind! After transplanting, they will usually have a year without blooms (or maybe just a few blooms), while they are setting down their new roots. By the 3rd dinner, you won’t even know they were transplanted!

      • a coworker of my dig up three peonies last year for me and one did die but the other two are starting the grow. Can’t wait to see what kind they are!

      • Mystifiedme says:

        Hi
        I’d love to tell you about my peonies.

        As a child, we moved to our first house in 1950. There were old established peonies in the garden. My parents home was razed in 1970’s and I transplanted some of the peonies to my home.

        Those peonies moved with me many times over the years and continue to thrive in my latest house. Still alive after many more than 50 years!

        What I can tell you about this great joy is dig deep and be gentle. It’s important not to break the main root which often goes straight down like a tree. Talk to them while you dig. Tell them why you’re digging them and where they are going to live!
        Trust me, this is important.

        Give them room in a sunny spot and then be patient. They probably won’t bloom the first year or two but then they will and will for years.

        Good luck with your move. Be happy in your new home.

      • joni folgers says:

        Transplant these garden gems in Sept. Not too deep with those pink little buds up. The coming spring you will not get blooms. It is just that simple. The following year the flowers return and with each passing year, they will grow with vigor. Good luck.

      • Misticial Magick says:

        My mother-in-law Passed away 8 years ago. My husband wanted to take some of her Peonies after her home was sold. We took 23 different varieties with us. We never lost one of them. We have peonies everywhere. It is like having a bit of my mother-in-law with us always. I did not do anything special when dug them up. We made sure to plant them within 24 hours and kept them moist.

      • T. Hough says:

        I have transplanted, separated and moved my grandma’s basic old Peony plants in Iowa and Neb. for years. I always have gone by the rule of “bloom in the spring, transplant in Fall”. I have made many plants out of two large ones and they continue to grow. I’m not sure you can do it wrong. Maybe in different parts of the country this doesn’t work?

      • Jessica says:

        My neighbor gifted me some of her peonies after the blooming had ended. I planted them in full sun, fertile soil and they bloomed the following year and every year after that. One thing I did was cut the plant way back, about 3 inches above the ground, so it wouldn’t be too stressful for the plant. We live in the midwest.

      • We transplanted a peony at least 10 years ago. The first year it did not blossom but every year since it’s been beautiful. We didn’t do anything special. Just transplanted it.

      • I transplanted my great aunts from her yard that had been there over 20 years and they bloom every year wonderfully. I dug them up in the fall, and even split some of the tubers to have enough to make a hedge. They have been in my yard since 1992.

    • We have transplanted peonies to cemeteries around NWMO for years. Trick is when you dig them up, keep the roots from drying out. Replant at the same depth and water well.

    • Christine says:

      I transplanted my Sarah Bernhardt peony in the fall. I dug wide around it, trying not to disturb the roots. The first year after transplanting it, it only gave me one flower. Since then, it has done fine, blooming normally.

  4. Dig them in the fall to transplant and they should do fine. I have plants that I transplanted from my parents house 17 years ago that are doing great! Be sure to dig deep and get a good root ball.

  5. Ann Bee says:

    My father brought me one of his peonies from his garden in Wisconsin. I live in north Texas and we carefully transplanted it on the north side of my garden under the shade of a row of crape myrtles. Year after year I would hope for a bloom. Nonetheless, it always filled out the space with its attractive and lush foliage and last year after 8 years a magnificant blue ribbon blossom! And this year, after being in my garden for nine years it produced FIVE beautiful blooms. My father had his bushes for years and years in his garden…his first transplants were from his childhood home! I lost my father a few years ago and seeing it bloom for the first time last year took my breath away! Happy gardening!

    • Kathy Woodard says:

      Thanks for sharing that Ann! Sounds worth the wait!

    • Karen Helton says:

      What a beautiful story! It’s amazing the stories that we have that tie us to flowers and flowers to us. I have a hydrangea bush which is a cutting of a cutting of a pair of beautiful bushes in front of my grandmother’s home. Those bushes were cuttings from the grave of my Aunt Margaret, whom I never knew because she died when my father was a little boy. Those original bushes are long gone, even from my Aunt’s grave, and I have the only living descendent of that bush. I would sooner cut off my arm intentionally than unearth this beautiful little sacred bush.

  6. Maureen Ramsden says:

    Thank you so much for this very helpful site. I failed some years back to grow herbaceous peonies, but have a beautiful dark red tree peony and have just this week planted 2 Karl Rosenfield. I am in Tasmania and hope I will succeed this time.

  7. I’ve transplanted my peony twice. I believe it was an old one when I got it. It was planted in the shade. It took a two years for it to bloom, but it’s as healthy as anything now. It barely gets water in the summer and is in full sun. I love it. No idea what kind it is though.

  8. When I bought my 1948 house two years ago, it contained many established plants. I didn’t realize that there were peonies on the east side until a little more than a month after I moved in. I don’t know what variety they are, but they are light pink with white centers and red stamens. They are absolutely gorgeous and have a light fragrance also. I had always wanted peonies, so I really enjoy these beauties.

  9. Brenda Schmidling says:

    I would love to add peonies to my yard. My mom has peonies in her yard that were my grandmothers. I love them and always have. I would like to have some now in my own yard from my family to enjoy. Where do I get them? Should I order them by mail or should I be able to find them at a local greenhouse? Any help would be appreciated. Thank you

    • Kathy Woodard says:

      I think your local nursery is the best bet, as they will know which varieties do best in your area… That having been said, White Flower Farms and Wayside Gardens, both online, are always top quality!

  10. I transplanted my peonies and they are doing wonderful!

  11. Hello, I brought a peony plant last year in the GallO planted it and it’s now June and it has a nice green foliage very full looking but it never did bloom, then someone told Me that it won’t bloom unroll next year, I was very much looking forward to the blooms, is this true

    • Kathy Woodard says:

      It can take a Peony a little while to “put it roots down” so to speak, so yes, be patient and it will bloom! And then for years after!

  12. Marianne says:

    Early Glow… looks a little like a magnolia bloom.

  13. Bev Metcalf says:

    Hi fellow peony lovers: I live in Alaska and am proud to say that I have 14 thriving peonies at this time– my most recent 2 favorites for Mothers Day this year; the beautiful Canary Brilliance and Coral Sunset (kind of expensive, they were!) My original 2 were transplanted from my mom’s house (here in Alaska as well) 20 years ago. On at least 10 of my plants, I get upward of 30 or more blooms per plant!! They are a sight to behold alright!! I am very proud of them and love these plants as much as I love my kids! They have not yet burst with flowers but it should be in the next day or so– some of the blooms are as big as tennis balls:-) I wait with bated breath<3

  14. Years ago, I read that peonies “sulk” for two to three years after being transplanted, and I have found this to be true, whether moving an established plant, or putting in new plantings. What I haven’t figured out is how to rid the blooms of ants before bringing them inside to enjoy their beauty up-close. Any hints?

    • When I go out to cut peony blooms I always bring a 5-gallon bucket of water. Cut the stem and plunge the whole thing (flower down) into the bucket (including the cut stem if you can). Ants will drown if they don’t leave! Before I bring them inside I swish them around good to make sure any pockets of air and ants were removed and then shake off the excess water.

  15. I have 2 plants. I only know one is a deep pink and one is a Snow White. The problem is, I only get 1 bloom on rack plant, for the past 4 years. Any reasons why this would happen?

    • I had to move mine, because they weren’t getting enough sun. They could also be planned too deep. The tips of the little “toes” should almost be visible under the surface of the dirt.

  16. Dorothy Bruning says:

    I have several white peonies that were my mother-in-laws. They bloom beautifully every year. I don’t know the name of them. Large creamy white. They originally were moved from her Mother’s farm. Last year I planted 3 Myrtle Gentry peonies. I saw them on line and they were most gorgeous. They were hard to find, but I was finally successful. I hope they bloom this year, but if not, I not it is worth waiting for!

  17. Karen Mertens says:

    I have transplanted peonies in the fall many times and have never had a failure to thrive. I think Peony Farm I Love Peonys is a wonderful place to get peonies through mail. They have an amazing assortment and varieties. They have a facebook page.

  18. Chris Prendergast says:

    Goodmorning and HELP if you can. I have had peonies for severa years and as the years on I get less and less blooms on my bushes. I have also tried to grow some new peonies from bare root with no success but from your article maybe I had it too deep or the soil wasn’t prepared as well as it should of been . Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
    Chris p.

    • Kathy Woodard says:

      Hi Chris!
      My experience with peonies is limited but I can tell you the number one reason new plants fail is being planted too deep. The soil also should be loose and rich for best performance… Do you fertilize your older peonies?

  19. Richard Patterson says:

    I have about 20 peony in my yard. one was here when I move in 22 years ago. The rest I got starts from my mother in laws yard. I just have one question. I have never read about maintenance and feeding them. I keep the weeds and grass away from them but have never feed them other that what gets on them when I feed the yard. Anyone out there that knows. All of mine bloom nicely and make the back yard smell like heaven.

  20. Jennifer Powers says:

    Hi. I bought my first peony 2 years ago and planted it in full sun. I didn’t expect it to bloom the first year, since I planted it in May. However, I was very excited to see the red blooms last summer and had some nice buds but they never opened up. I don’t think I planted it too deep, but I’ve also never fertilized it either. Does anyone have any suggestions for me? Thanks.

    • Thrips are a very tiny insect that feed on the buds. Snip off a stem with a bud on it and take it to your local agricultural extension office. They can help you identify the problem and offer suggestions for treatment.

  21. Kathleen Kolb says:

    Peonies are by far my favorite flower, I have over sixty-five bushes. My favorites are Sarah Bernhardt and Lois which has flowers that are both pink and yellow. Have patience with your peonies as they get established and check that they are not planted too deeply. The rest is easy!

  22. Hi. To help with the weight of the peony blossoms, my mother and grandmother taught me to pinch off the sucker buds when they first appear, leaving the main blossom to become especially large and beautiful. It will prevent all of the stems from falling to the ground, and avoid the need for caging of the plant. You will still have plenty of blossoms remaining.

    • My mom taught me this years ago too! I still support the plants but love how large the main flower becomes!

  23. My mother-in-law, who was a gardener extraordinaire, once told me that where you live determined whether you could grow peonies. She said you could either grow camellias or peonies, but not both in one climate. I have camellias and have not had much luck with peonies. However, I love them so much; think I’ll try again.

  24. trena porter says:

    hi i just wanted no a bit of advise really i av a small poney plant it cm up every year with really deep pink flowers it not been moved or tampered with but this year it come out in bloom with a lightish pink flower but it looks burned all round the edge off the peteals could anyone no what caused this many thanx

  25. what fertilizer do you you use for established plants?

    • Kathy Woodard says:

      Honestly I use Miracle Gro… There are a a lot of good basic fertilizers on the market, organic and otherwise…

  26. GramsPeonies says:

    So I moved into my grandparents house in 2006. My grandfather built the house in 1928. Sometime prior to 1960 my grandmother planted peonies by the oil shed that I found in the big yard. I don’t know when they were planted but my grandmother died the year I was born and I know she was the one who planted them. Stuff grew up and the plants were in the shade and never bloomed, but I recognized them as peonies. There were about a dozen plants. I gave a couple to two of my cousins and my sister. I planted the rest in a huge flower garden I made in the yard. I did that in the spring of 2008.I got a few blooms in the summer of 2009. By the summer of 2010, the plants were strong and produced probably about 50 blooms. The plants have since tripled in size and I have well over 100 blooms that include at least four different colors of huge peonies ! They smell wonderfull and I have about six patches of peonies in my garden now. I love, love love my peonies and know that my grandmother loves them too !!

  27. Hello and thanks for your informative info on peonies. I have a bush I bought last year that had 3 blooms. I planted that and this year it is more than doubled in size and is a beautiful plant. The problem? Not one bloom! I have heard they can take a couple of years to bloom but I thought since it had blooms when purchased I would get at least one. Is there and fertilizer or additive to help it bloom? Thanks again.

    • Kathy Woodard says:

      They do like rich soil, so make sure you fertilize! Also, make sure they get at least 6 hours of sun a day…

  28. I want to plant some peonies in a large container…..for my soil is sand and nothing grows well at all….I am in north florida.

  29. christina says:

    So far it seems I’m pretty lucky with peonys. I started with two of them, one pink and the other a creamy white with tiny flecks of raspberry in the center. Between the two of them, my yard and house were filled with beauty and fragrance. I was hooked, and decide to start collecting them. I now have five more in shades ranging from reddish pink to a dark plum. They haven’t all bloomed yet, but I can’t wait to start filling my vases with even more color and fragrance.

  30. I bought 2 peonies last year. they were planted as a bareroot. they started to sprout then got stepped on.i transplanted them immediately into a pot to hope they would still grow. it is now april and nothing is happening. will they eventually start to grow again or are they dead?
    thanks

  31. My peonies when they bloom they fall over and almost hit the ground..can anybody tell me why..

  32. What are sucker buds ?

    • Kathy Woodard says:

      They are shoots that come out under the central crown or root stock, they are not the same as the hybrid plant… The are usually straight and somewhat different from the rest of the plant…

  33. We recently moved into our new place this spring. I was just wondering what causes leaves on peonies to turn a brown colour and shrivel slightly. The flower blooms nice most times, but the leaves are detouring the growth somewhat. I have re-soiled, sprayed for bugs and water regularly. I was thinking the plant is just not had enough nutrition (due to lack of TLC) from the prior owners. I have also put down Epsom salts to detour bugs and add nutrition as suggested by many! I’m at a loss, I would hate to loose this plant, it has a lot of sentimental value. Thanks.

    • Kathy Woodard says:

      Hi Sharon! I think you should take the brown leave in a ziplock bag to your nursery to identify the problem… It can just be from lack of water or an imbalance in nutrients, but Peonies can have several kinds of mold or wilt that can cause brown, shriveled leaves. Good luck!

  34. Karen Wigent says:

    Tip I would like to add: Don’t let your husband run over the peonies with the riding mower!

  35. Two years ago my daughter moved from DC back to STL She had planted several peonies in her yard and dug them out with a lot of soil on the roots in the early spring just as they were first starting to show through the soil, shipping them via UPS in a plastic garbage bag inside of a large box! When I received them, I put them into a very large plastic pot. They only had one bloom that year, but had a gorgeous umbrella-like foliage that was very lovely in the large pot. Over the next winter, I didn’t move them inside, but just left the pot outside. This year they bloomed and again looked lovely on the patio. These were Sarah Bernhardt.

  36. My grandmothers always said that peonies are best transplanted in the fall. You can transplant them in the spring but they will not bloom until the following spring. They also said the number of flowers is determined by the number of eyes on the root. If you are planting a bare root with three eyes, you should get three flowers the first time it blooms. A healthy plant will produce more eyes every year. The red eyes should be planted near the surface (no deeper than 2 inches), the soil should be loose and drain well. If they are planted too deep they will not flower. And in hot climates, I have found that peonies need afternoon shade. I have mine on the east side of the house.

    I’ve never found peonies hard to transplant. In my experience, trying to move a peony and not leave any root behind to eventually re-sprout in the spot you wanted to remove it from, is a bigger problem.

  37. The house i grew up in had 15foot area in the yard that was full of Peonies. They were the most beautiful flowers. The flowers were huge. We would cut some but the neighbors would sneak over to our yard and cut our flowers. We did nothing special to these Peonies. My grandfather told me that i was to only cut them down when i mowed my yard for the last time of year. Thats whst i did every uyear and every year they would come back huge green bushes and would bloom beautifully. I sold the house and took some with me when i moved. The house i moved to already had some but they look very pittiful. Not a lot of blooms. I mowed them down when i mowed for the last time of the year and the next year they came back big and full with beautiful blooms and the ones i brought with me bloomed big beautiful blooms. One thing i still do that my grandparents did was when bloom before it flowers out and the bloom is a little soft i cut them and put a moist papertowel on the steam and put them in my refrigerator in the crisper and use them for memorial day and take the to the cemetery i use coffee cans can within a day or two the blooms are beautifully flowers.

  38. Hi to all peony lovers every where.
    I was told this little trueism by a peony grower when I first fell in love with them, may years ago, I asked her how long would it take to bloom as my first was 2 years old and didn’t look like flowering.
    She told me they are the structural engineers of the plant world building their strong foundations first and said.

    ” the first year they sleep
    the second year they creep
    the third year they leap ”

    I have never forgotten this.
    Joy and blessings to all

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