It’s a great time to load up on perennial peonies! The Spring favorite is in bud and bloom in our perennial yards now. This season, we’re carrying an incredible selection of varieties to adorn your garden. We have tried and true favorites as well has hard to find varieties, you’ll want to collect them all!
Peonies are garden classics and have been growing in Eastern gardens for 4,000 years. It was used as the Imperial symbol in China and slowly migrated to Japan around the 8th century. Ancient Greek mythology highly regarded the peony for its medicinal purposes, as did the Christians in Europe during the Middle Ages.
Peony derives its name from a Greek myth. Paeon, a student of Aesculapis (God of Medicine), was well aware of the medicinal qualities of peony plants. He used them to heal a wound suffered by the god Pluto which so infuriated Aesculapis he threatened to kill Paeon. Pluto saved Paeons life by turning him into a peony. Another myth replaces Pluto with Zeus.
There are a few myths about peonies and my favorite is about the “nymph” named Paeonia. She was so beautiful that she attracted the attention of Apollo. This did not sit well with Aphrodite, she was so jealous she turned Paeonia into a flower.
There are 3 classifications for peonies, herbaceous, tree and intersectional. All are hardy to zone 3, drought tolerant, deer resistant and low maintenance. There are many varieties to choose from and can be used in the landscape as a specimen, mass planted as a hedge, or in a container on the patio. They do not like to be planted to deep and will last for years with minimal care.
HERBACEOUS – These are the ones that die back to the ground every year. They will grow 3 to 4 feet high and wide and have lush, glossy, green foliage. The flowers come in a range of colors from shades of red, pink, purple and white. Blooms range in size and fullness, from single petal to fully double blooms. Japanese varieties have 1 to 2 layers of petals that surround a cluster of partially formed petals in the center (petaloid stamens). There are many that are fragrant, from a mild scent to a heavy fragrance.
TREE – This variety has a woody stem that stays throughout the winter. Tree peonies can grow 5 feet tall or more but are slow growers. So, it is quite possible your plant will remain small for several years. The flowers are larger than herbaceous peonies and the color range is red, pink, coral, yellow, and purple to bi-colors. Some are fragrant but not as much as herbaceous. They will thrive in dappled shade with only 4 to 5 hours of sun and bloom 2 weeks earlier than herbaceous ones. Although they lose their leaves in winter the woody stems maintain a graceful structure for the season.
INTERSECTIONAL – Also know as ITOH peonies originated by crossing a tree with a herbaceous peony. This was done by Japanese botanist Dr. Tochi Itoh in 1948. Sadly Dr. Itoh died before the seedlings were able to flower. It was up to his family to continue and nurture them until they finally bloomed in 1964. An American botanist, Louis Smirnow, was finally able to get permission to bring some plants to the USA where he patented 4 hybrids and named them ITOH hybrids.
ITOH’S grow up to 3 feet tall and wide. The lush finely divided leaves grow close to the ground giving it an elegant mounded look throughout the season. The have enormous flowers with fluffy petals that surround a cluster of yellow stamens. ITOH’S come in a range of colors including red, apricot, coral, pink and yellow. Just as herbaceous peonies start to fade the ITOH’S burst on to the stage, extending the peony season another 2 to 3 weeks. It is similar to herbaceous as it dies back for the winter and the flowers are large like the tree peonies.
There is a peony for every garden, whether it is used as a specimen, hedge, container or just added to the perennial border. Place fragrant varieties close to home where their scent can be enjoyed. Float a flower in a bowl, cut a bouquet and enjoy these beauties for years to come.