Peonies are amazingly resilient perennials, emerging spring after spring regardless of the weather and lighting up the border with their luxurious, decadent blooms.
Some are put off choosing peonies for their gardens because of the relatively short flowering period; others feel that there are better plants which will offer more colour and value for money. Others still imagine that the peony is a difficult plant to grow, best left to experienced gardeners. Actually the peony is unrivalled in the garden when in flower and it is an excellent low maintenance plant, perfect for beginners and experienced gardeners alike. The short flowering season is a slight drawback but the foliage is often lush and colourful providing an interesting stage for later flowering plants and bulbs.
Most peonies are delightfully fragranced, some more so than others, so place them where you can enjoy the delicate scent of the blooms on a summer evening. The blooms range in size from fist sized tightly packed balls of perfumed petals to blooms the size of dinner plates from some of the intersectional peonies. Intersectional Peonies are a hybrid of the herbaceous and tree peony, they die back each year like the herbaceous types but form a tree peony framework which means no support is needed for the spectacular blooms which often last 4-6 weeks thereby extending the flowering period of the typical peony by many weeks. Intersectional peonies are highly collectable and less available than the herbaceous type but we have several for sale on our website www.primrosehall.co.uk
Rule number 1: remember not to plant your peony too deeply. The tuberous roots must not be planted more than about 2.5cm below the surface. If they are planted any deeper they may give wonderful foliage (some of the intersectional peonies, such as ‘Bartzella’ AGM or ‘Julia Rose’ have finely cut leaves which turn crimson red in the spring and autumn and many of the herbaceous or garden peonies have strong red stems and light green soft foliage) but they simply will not flower. If you have a peony in the garden and it isn’t flowering, it is probably because it has been planted too deeply or it has been buried when you have diligently mulched your borders. Just wait until the autumn and then, taking care not to damage the buds on the roots, lift your peony and re-plant it at the right depth.
Rule number 2: plant your peony in a sunny position. Although many varieties will tolerate some shade (for example Peony lactiflora ‘White Wings’) if your peony is in heavy shade it will be reluctant to flower well.
Rule number 3: plant your peony in fertile, free draining soil. Peonies are not generally too fussy about the soil and are quite happy in chalky or clay soils provided that it is free draining, they don’t like to sit in water in the winter.
As you can see, the rules really only apply to planting your peony. Once planted your peony will be quite content to be left alone. In fact if you have rich, fertile soil you probably don’t need to feed your peony, but if your soil is not so good a balanced, general fertiliser such as Growmore applied in the spring should do the trick. It is also a good idea to cut back and remove the dead leaves in autumn to avoid peony wilt.
The show that peonies put on may be relatively short, but my goodness what a show it is. The peony’s hardiness, low maintenance and longevity are reasons in themselves to spark a love affair, but the sheer beauty and fragrance of the flowers make it thunderbolt city for me.
Alec White – Nurseryman and Peony Grower