Growing up, my grandmother's backyard was full of peonies. And, visiting her in the spring and early summer the first thing I wanted to do was pick the huge flowers, which at the time seemed to be bigger than my face, to present to everyone at the dinner table. Not only does the peony flower have the visual romanticism of any Harlequin novel and is one of the most requested flowers by brides coming to Sprout, but it is also a tried and true plant that can stand on its own even in a contemporary garden. The peony was named after Paeon, who was a student of the Greek god of medicine and healing, who was turned in to this alluring flower by Zeus after his teacher became jealous of him - yes the flower is that beautiful.
Photo by Leo Rosen
The peony's flower color can range from white, pink, coral, yellow, red and more, with some even having a different colored center. There are various flower types in the genus Paeonia including single, double, semi double, Japanese and anemone. Most can be highly fragrant, taking over a large space with it's sweet and soft perfu me. No matter which type of peony flower you select I promise you will not be disappointed. If immediate satisfaction is important, select an older specimen versus a young plant because it can take them a couple years of growth for them to bloom. Most peonies are herbaceous and die back to the ground in the winter while the tree peony can leave its woody stem. They grow best in cooler climates and in full sun. Site the peony where it can get some room to breathe, being careful not to plant it where it is in direct competition with tree and shrub roots. Make sure that the soil is well drained and that there is ample airflow for its leaves so that fungal infections do not occur. They develop deep roots which makes transplanting difficult so select a space in your yard to plant your peony where it will permanently live.
Photo by Leo Rosen
Since their flowers are so huge and heavy you will need to hold the plant up in some fashion. I find that loosely tying the peony limbs to shorter stakes with covered wire does the trick. Cut the flowers off after they fade but leave the foliage. I am a cut flower nut so I can not resist cutting some of the magnificent blooms to use in arrangements and if you are of like mind remember to not go crazy with your shears. You should leave at least half of the blooms and all of the foliage in order to allow future blooms to foster. Once you have seen the peony bloom, the image will stay with you forever and reward you from year to year. Which reminds me, i need to take a picture of the one in my backyard and send it to my grandmother -- from her garden to mine.