Peony (Paeonia)

Double Pink Peony Flowers

An old cottage garden favourite, ideal for herbaceous or mixed borders. Not that easy to grow but the big blowsy flowers are well worth the effort. Two main types are available: herbaceous perennials and deciduous shrubs (tree peony). Both types are very long lived.

Family: Paeoniaceae
Botanical Name: Paeonia
Common Names: garden peony

Foliage: Deciduous, large, mid-green or bronzy red, lobed or deeply dissected leaves.

Flowers: Large, showy, saucer or bowl-shaped blooms - up to 7in (18cm) across. Single, semi-double, double or Anemone-flowered forms are available, in a good range of colours.

Flowering Period: Late spring to early summer.

Soil: Well-drained but moist, fertile soil (chalk, clay, sand or loam). Any pH.

Conditions: Best in full sun, but will tollerate some shade. Plant in a east, west or south facing aspect, in a sheltered possition. Protect from morning sun.

Habit: Tuberous-rooted, clump forming or shrubs.

Type: herbaceous perennials or deciduous sub-shrubs.

Origin: Europe, China, Asia and North America.

Hardiness: Most species are fully hardy in the UK.

Planting and Growing Peonies

Peonies flower best in full sun, in deep, fertile, humus-rich soil. However, they are best shaded from bright morning sun.

Plant out herbaceous types in autumn or winter. Deeply dig and enrich the soil with plenty of organic matter before planting. Don't plant too deep, setting the crown just below the surface.

They may not flower in the first few seasons, until well established. So are best left undisturbed.

Plant shrubby forms in September or early October and protect from frost until well established.

Taking Care of Peonies

Tall herbaceous forms, especially large flowered doubles, will need support. Shrubby forms are self supporting.

Water copiously in dry weather and regularly dead-head faded blooms.

Apply a general fertilizer in late summer and mulch with well-decayed organic matter each spring.

Pruning Peonies

Remove faded blooms (unless you are saving seed) and cut down the old foliage of herbaceous forms to ground level in autumn.

Tree peonies need very little pruning. Remove the flowered shoots once the flowers have faded and cut out any dead branches in late winter.

Pests and Diseases

Generally pest and disease free. Peony blight (or wilt) can be a problem. Peony blotch (or leaf-spot) can mar the foliage.

Propagating Peonies

Divide herbaceous forms when dormant, in autumn or early spring. However, older varieties dislike root disturbance which can affect flowering, therefore it may be best just to buy new plants.

Shrubby species are normally increased by layering or grafting in the spring. Cuttings can be taken in the autumn (protected under a cold frame) but are notoriously difficult to root.

Seed can also be sown of both of shrubs and herbaceous perennials when ripe. Although, germination can take several years, and then again several more years to reach flowering size. Hybrids and cultivars won't come true to type but can be rewarding.

Popular Varieties of Peonies

A vast number of excellent garden varieties are now available, from heritage forms (dating back hundreds of years) to modern intersectional cross breeds between herbaceous and shrubby forms. They can be supplied as either pot grown or bare root plants in spring.

Herbaceous Perennials

Paeonia lactiflora (Chinese peony) a very popular species that flowers from late spring to early summer. The flowers can be up to 7in (12cm) across and are available in good range of colours and forms. Average height 2 to 3ft (60-90cm) and spread to 2ft (60cm). Many good cultivars are available, including:

P. l. 'Bowl of Beauty' a very old favourite with anemone-flowered pink flowers with a cream centre. Available from You Garden.

P. l. 'Buckeye Belle' produces deep red, semi-double flowers, with contrasting golden anthers. Available at Thompson and Morgan.

P. l. 'Coral Sunset' provides late spring displays of show-stopping, ruffled blooms. Available at Thompson and Morgan.

P. l. 'Daydream' an unusual bi-coloured form with double 6in (15cm) flowers in various shades of cream and red. Height to 36in (1m). Available at You Garden

P. l. 'Dr Alexander Fleming' another popular herbaceous bushy form, producing large fragrant, rose-pink double flowers throughout the summer. Available at You Garden.

P. l. 'Sarah Bernhardt' has ruffled, flamingo-pink, double blooms. Available at Thompson and Morgan.

P. l. 'Karl Rosenfield' is a showy herbaceous Peony with large red, fragrant double blooms in summer. Available at Thompson and Morgan.

P. l. 'Shirley Temple' produces an abundance of fragrant white blooms in early summer. Available at Thompson and Morgan.

Peony Coral Charm produces fabulous colour-changing, semi-double peony flowers that open from deep tangerine-pink buds, into salmon showy blooms that fade to a pastel coral-orange. RHS Award of Garden Merit. Good as cut flowers. Available at You Garden.

Paeonia officinalis (Common Paeony) grows wild in many parts of Europe, flowering from May into June. The impressive 5in (12cm) blooms are usually red but there are many good double varieties in several different shades, including: 'Alba Plena' (white) and 'Rosea Plena' (pink). The form 'Rubra Plena' is a very old and popular variety with deep-red double flowers and attractive foliage.

Tree Peonies

Paeonia delavayi (China) is a deciduous shrub with long dissected leaves and maroon-red flowers in June. Height and spread about 5ft (1.5m).

Paeonia lutea (China) is a deciduous shrub similar to P. delavayi, but with brighter green leaves and yellow flowers. Height and spread to 6ft (1.5-2m). Variety 'ludlowii' is a popular choice.

Paeonia suffruticosa is a hardy shrub that flowers in spring. Height to 5ft (1.8m). Cultivar 'Chu Wu' - Black Lotus has rich dark black-red velvet petals with attractive lotus formed flowers. The exotic blooms can measure up to 10in (25cm) or more. Available at Gardening Express. 'Wu Long Peng Sheng' has dark red or pink double flowers with a rich perfume. Height and spread to 5ft (150cm). Available at Thompson and Morgan.

Paeonia 'Ruby' has attractive, bright green foliage with contrasting purple-pink, double blooms. Available at Thompson and Morgan.

Itoh Hybrids

Recent breeding has created new intersectional hybrid crosses between herbaceous peonies and tree peonies called Itoh peonies (named after the Japanese breeder Toichi Itoh).

Peony 'Bartzella' produces lemon scented yellow flowers with frilly, ruffled centres. Flowers April and May. Fully hardy, long lived and easy to grow. Available from You Garden.

Peony 'Candy Stripe' produces a fascinating pink and white marbling effect around its large blooms. Available from Van Meuwen.

Peony 'First Arrival' is a hardy perennial with deep pink to mauve flowers between May and June. Available at Thompson and Morgan.

Peony 'Julia Rose' creates a neat mound of glossy foliage, which fades to burnished copper in autumn. The salmon-pink blooms gradually fade to yellow. Available at Thompson and Morgan.