Herbaceous peonies are the most glamorous flowers in my garden, so lush and big, and pink, of course. I have planted mostly late varieties so that they will still have some bloom when the roses begin to bloom. That way, if for any reason, the roses are not doing what I want them to be doing on the last Sunday in June, the peonies will delight visitors who have come to the Annual Rose Viewing.
You might have a different sort of reason for wanting herbaceous peonies to bloom in an earlier season, or you might want to have early, mid and late season varieties for a long period of that lush bloom. Whatever it is that you want you will have many choices of flower color and form.
Peonies are also among the most carefree flowers to have in a garden. They have no serious pests or diseases. Once planted they will be happy for years and even decades. Some happy peonies have been found growing in a garden neglected for a generation. All they need is slightly acidic, humusy soil and a place in the sun. The only tricky part is that they must planted properly, with the root only an inch or two below soil level. If they are planted too deeply they will not bloom. This is not fatal, it just means you will have to dig them up sometime in the future and replant them.
Because peonies are so long lived it is wise to plant them at least two feet apart and at least that far from a wall or any other plants. A mature peony can have a three foot diameter and needs room to show off to best advantage.
Peonies have large brittle roots and fall is the best and official time for planting, or dividing and replanting them. Nowadays, you will often find a few potted peonies at nurseries in the spring, but autumn planting gives the feeder roots time to develop and be stronger in the spring. Even so, it may take a year or even two before your peony blooms.
I used to think peonies were pink or white and all had the same form. I was wrong. To begin with there are single peonies with a single ring of petals around a (usually) golden center. White Wings and Coral’n Gold are examples. The semi-double form comes next with two or three layers of petals like Coral Charm.
Japanese form peonies like Mikado have a large central cluster of stamens. Sometimes they are called Imperial peonies. Anemone peonies are similar to Japanese, but the central cluster has evolved into petaloids, larger than the stamens. Bowl of Beauty has a large pink blossom (up to 12 inches in diameter) around a cluster of lemon yellow petaloids.
Double peonies have so many petals that the stamens are not visible at all. Kansas is a deep red double blooming in early midseason. In 1957 it was awarded a Gold Medal by the American Peony Society. Alas, no fragrance.
The bomb form is similar to the double, but the center segment of petals form more of a round ball set on the surrounding petals. Charlie’s White is very tall, up to 48 inches, pure white and with good fragrance. It is also an excellent cut flower and can even be dried.
I am not moving any peonies this year so I do not have to do any digging up, dividing or replanting. However, I am a little late with my cutting back. It is time to cut back all the stalks to the ground, weed, and possibly add a little compost or mulch.
I also have tree peonies and these do not get cut back at all. They will not really grow into trees, but they bloom on sturdy branches that remain all year. A mature tree peony can produce many blossoms over their season. The main difference in their care is that tree peonies do need to be planted more deeply, about four inches, again in slightly acidic, humusy soil in a sunny location.
I love the tree peonies because they are the size of a small shrub and are extremely hardy even though the large blossoms appear so delicate. I confess I do pray for sun while they are in bloom because a strong spring rain will wash away those flowers. Guan Yin Mian which refers to the goddess of compassion is my best tree peony with all the delicacy and strength that the goddess embodies.
The newest peony in the nurseries is the Itoh peony. They are so named after Toichi Itoh who was the first hybridizer to successfully cross a tree peony with an herbaceous peony in 1940. Originally these were very expensive, but prices have come down. These are also known as intersectional peonies.
The advantage to the Itoh peony is that they have a more bushy appearance and will produce dozens of blooms over a long season once established. There are only a few Itoh peonies on the market compared to the scores of herbaceous peonies, but they are very beautiful. Quite a number are in shades of yellow which is an unusual color for a peony. I don’t know who it is named for but there is a lovely double pink Itoh named Hillary whose petals will fade to cream
I have a border devoted to peonies in the HeathGarden but they can be used on a more individual scheme throughout a garden. I am now looking for good locations for peonies in the new Greenfield garden. There is still time to do some planting.
Between the Rows October 3, 2015