Have you fallen in love yet? When you see a peony flower in a vase for the first time you are forgiven if you think they are completely fake! Extraordinary in size and colour these flowers are really very special full flowers, they are also known as peony roses. Peonies (from the genus Paeonia) are in full flower in mid-spring and if you have a meter of space you could have one of these lovelies flowering in your garden -the trick is stopping at just one.
Well, why stop at one – despite their outrageous primadonna princess looks they are actually easy to grow (haircut in early winter) and get to flower (lime) and they are very long lived, reportedly up to 100 years. These plants are really very trouble free once they get going which can take some 2-3 years to begin with. The peonies I grow in Melbourne have not been fussy about soil once established, some are in an awful clay dry soil but still perform well (even in the last drought) and I recommend you buy your plants and try not to move them as they like to establish in one spot and stay there. You also need at least some mild winter weather for them to be successful, at least two months below 12°C or 50ish °F.
Peony propagation has been done for or thousands of years by bud and root grafting which can be complex but obviously rewarding. I however am a do it now (and quickly 1-2 years) kinda girl so I listened when an expert peony grower gave me this propagation tip. If you do want to risk an established plant you can try and propagate more by digging it up and planting on its side, build up the soil and then voilà slicing off the new plant (bud and root stock) only a season or so later.
In terms of growing they can become meter square bushes around knee to thigh height quickly in growing season so we also use metal hoop stands to keep some of the the flowers and foliage of the more floppy varieties upright, but you can just stay away from those varieties as many peonies have lovely dark emerald green dense growth and upright flowers. Don’t be afraid to cut these flowers for indoors, I have an un-named plant in my garden with the most extraordinary dinner plate sized flowers (20-25cm) but because the flowers are so large they always hang down so this is the plant we use for cut flowers, but most of the time I ignore this plant but it seems to be getting bigger and better each year! If you are having some rough weather or hot weather indulge yourself and harvest all your flowers to enjoy inside.
Here are some peony flowers that are a little more unusual and rare that you may like or perhaps fall wildly, madly passionately in love with.
And if that is not enough to feed your peony fever here are some more of my favorite peony flowers.
This is a Lutea Hybrid Tree Peony which is valued because it has both pollen and seeds that are used in breeding.
Below are detailed shots of ‘Sarah Bernhardt’, Peony ‘Felix Crousse’ and ‘Lady Alexander Duff’ in my garden this spring.