Peonies are hardy, herbaceous perennials, long lived and often fragrant. Their beauty is unsurpassed and they make wonderful cut flowers. Stunning in bloom with lush foliage all summer long, they require little maintenance as long as they are planted properly and become well established. For success, plant peonies in full to part sun and cover them with about 1” of well-drained soil. Peonies do well in colder winters as they need the temperature to drop to successfully form buds for the following season.
The fattest and most scrumptious of all flowers, a rare fusion of fluff and majesty, the peony is now coming into bloom ” Henry Mitchell, American Writer (1923-1993)
Peonies like to be grown in deep, fertile, well-drained soil with a neutral pH. Choose your location carefully as peonies do not like to be transplanted or disturbed and do not compete well with other trees or shrubs for food and moisture. Provide shelter from strong winds, and space three to four feet apart to provide adequate air circulation. Peonies bloom best in full sun, but will tolerate part shade. They usually need a few years to establish themselves, thrive when ignored and do not require much care in the way of feeding. Fertilizing should occur in spring, once the plant reaches about 3-4” tall, before the leaves begin to open. A low nitrogen fertilizer such as 5-10-10 is recommended to support strong blooms and avoid excessive foliage. Often the stems are not strong enough to support the huge blooms and the use of peony rings or a support that will allow the plant to grow through the centre is recommended. Deadheading as soon as the blooms begin to fade is also recommended, as is cutting the foliage down to the ground in the fall to prevent overwintering diseases.
The sky is truly the limit with peony varieties. There is a vast range in flower shape, colour and foliage. Some interesting speciality varieties include fern leaf peonies which have an airy, fern like foliage and bloom with short stems, making it appear as if they’re just sitting on the foliage. Tree peonies are another unique variety, different from a classic herbaceous peony in that they are actually a woody shrub and reach an average height of 4-5’. Itoh peonies are a hybrid between the herbaceous and tree variety. With large blooms and foliage like the tree peony, their stems die back in the fall and must be cut back like the herbaceous peonies. A few truly classic herbaceous peonies are ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ (pink), ‘Karl Rosenfield’ (deep red), ‘Alexander Fleming’ (bright pink), ‘Sorbet’ (a pink/ivory ombré) and ‘Festiva Maxima’ (white). These varieties all offer large, fragrant, double blooms and are taller prototypes, growing up to 34-38” tall and making their long stems ideal for cut flowers. Don’t allow the beauty and complexity of this amazing perennial to intimidate you; once established, peonies are surprisingly easy to grow and disease resistant, making them ideal for the novice gardener. Blooms are sure to be a conversation piece either in your garden or as cut flowers in your home, making them a truly rewarding experience to grow.