When it comes to gorgeous, lush, ruffled-petal flowers, peonies take center stage as one of the most glamorous of the bunch. Peonies come in a range of colors, from frosty white to deep red, but the variety of shades of pink available are most numerous – from the palest blush to bright fuchsia to multi-hued cultivars that look like watercolors come to life. The flower heads are large – some reaching saucer size – set against glossy, deep green leaves, so there’s little wonder why peonies have been garden show-stoppers for generations.
And when it comes to generations, peonies are truly that long-lived. Many varieties last for decades, including some that have lived for over 100 years! There are varieties like Duchesse de Nemours and Festiva Maxim that are deliciously fragrant, while others have little to no scent at all. Overall, there are 6 main flower head “style” types to choose from: single, semi-double, double, bomb, anemone and Japanese.
There are also both herbaceous peonies and tree peonies. The herbaceous varieties die back to the ground in winter, sending up new growth in the spring. Tree varieties (Paeonia suffruiticosa) are woody plants that retain their structure throughout the year. A relative new comer to the market are Itoh Peonies – a cross between herbaceous and tree peonies – are also an option. These are hybrids grown to be stronger than typical herbaceous peonies so they would be less likely to droop after a heavy rain, and less attractive to ants, who love the sweet nectar of peony buds. A new cultivar of Itoh Peony from Monrovia includes Duchesse de Lorraine – the first fully double, yellow Itoh Peony. It produces, large, lush, beautifully fragrant, bright yellow, bomb-like blooms on strong stems that don’t need to be staked. Perfect as a spring specimen for sunny gardens and shrub borders, this Itoh typically blooms in late spring to early summer.
There are varieties that bloom early, midseason and later so you can keep a “peony show” going on for many weeks with some planning. Peonies are very hardy, and respond wonderfully to cold winters since they need chilling for good bud formation.
From a landscape design perspective, peonies look beautiful as a low hedge, a border to walkways or for larger and tree varieties, as specimen plants. They are the ultimate cutting garden flower, and last for days in a vase. You can cut peonies when they are in tight buds and keep them in water in the refrigerator for several weeks. Brought out to room temperature again, the buds will open in a few days.
Once established, peonies are easy to care for, pest and disease-resistant plants that reliably bloom year after year. Peonies do best when planted in the fall – at least 6 weeks prior to a hard freeze. They need full sun, a rich, pH neutral soil with good drainage, in a location protected from strong winds. They don’t like to compete for food and moisture, so avoid planting them next to other shrubs or trees. Peonies can grow up to 3 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide, so give them plenty of room to grow. Providing peonies with a support cage will help keep the heavy flowers from being weighted down, especially after a heavy rain. Supports should be put in place no later than when the peonies reach a height of 8”.
Take time to choose your site for your peonies, since they don’t respond well to be transplanted. It can take two years for peonies to become well-established and bloom, but they are certainly worth the wait with the reward of prolific, stunning, fragrant blooms to come.
Here are some of the Peonies right here at Farmside blooming over the last week!
Tuesday, May 21st
Thursday, May 30th
Have more questions about peonies? Give us a call, or contact us here at Farmside Landscape & Design – we’re always here to help!