Guan Yin Mian is my favorite tree peony, a native Chinese plant. Guan Yin is the bodhisattva of compassion, or in terms more familiar, the goddess of mercy. During our years in China I became familiar with Guan Yin who is much given to appearing in visions, giving women the babies they and long for, and who laughs that we can struggle so – as she helps us. She is often shown wearing a gown with a rice plant design. Because out of her compassion, she transformed the weedy rice plant into a food plant that would feed millions.
Tree peonies are not really trees. They have a shrubby woody structure, so unlike herbaceous peonies they do not die down to the ground in the fall. Like herbaceous peonies they are long lived plants, and a mature plant can carry nearly a hundred gorgeous blossoms. In spite of their fragile appearance they are very hardy. A Heath winter is as nothing to them. They bloom here at the end of May and into June, but their bloom period is short. Also that is the time of year when there can be heavy spring rains beating down of the large blossoms which are fragile.
A tree peony should be planted where it will get at least 6 hours of sun. They will tolerate, and welcome some shade. The soil should have a pH between 6.5-7.5 and be well drained. I cannot say I have ever tested my acid New England soil for any of my peonies, but I routinely spread a few ashes, or a bit of lime. If you are going to plant two or more tree peonies together allow four feet between. You want to allow room for years of growth and heavy bloom. Also, make sure you plant them deeply enough, with the roots two or three inches below the soil surface. Again, this is very different from herbaceous peonies which should have the root just below the soil surface. After the first year, unless there is a serious drought, watering is not needed. Remove spent blossoms. In the spring I prune off any branches that have suffered winter damage, and spread compost around the peonies. You can use a low nitrogen fertilizer. Too much nitrogen will result in weak growth.
Tree peonies, all peonies, require very little maintenance and suffer very little from disease or pests. They are beautiful and graceful and I love them. The snow is not yet melted here, but the air is softer and the sun brighter. I am looking forward to Guan Yin and her tree peony sisters, the most spectacular of my early bloomers.