Few herbaceous flowers can rival the dramatic showy blooms of this summer flowering herbaceous perennial. In all shades of pink to carmine red and white, the peony puts on its display for about three to four weeks, depending on variety and weather.
Their perfume is exquisite, reminding me of childhood and a warm summer breeze mingling with the sounds of Wimbledon on TV. One of my favourites is ‘Paeonia Monsieur Jules Elie’, a full soft pink flower. They make an excellent cut flower and are guaranteed to fill your room with their fragrance. It is good to note however that not all are scented.
Peonies are long lived (possibly 50 years), easy to maintain once established, some have good autumn foliage colour and all associate well with other romantic summer flowering plants. Paeonia ‘Bowl of Beauty’ and ‘Monsieur Jules Elie’ are pictured here with Rose ‘Constance Spry’, Clematis ‘Nellie Moser’,Verbascum ‘Bombisetiferum’ and various foxgloves. The heads of Jules Elie here (top right) are so full that I have to stake them each year.
Tips for growing…
Some people will say, peonies are difficult to flower and the flowering period is too short. Both are not true. They will flower for about a month with their maximum impact over about 2-3 weeks. Dead heading the central flowers will prolong flowering as it encourages the side buds to open. After they have finished flowering, the glossy dark leaves (which remain perfect until they colour up in autumn) can act as a background foil for later flowering plants.
Peonies don’t like their crowns to be buried (the part at the base of the stem) and can fail to flower if this happens, so when planting into a new bed, make sure that the soil level in your pot is not lower than the soil level of the bed. And if mulching around the plants the following spring, keep the compost away from the base of the plant.
Although the best soil conditions for them would be a nice crumbly rich loam… as the RHS says – that elusive ‘well drained but moisture retentive soil’… it is pretty surprising what mine have put up with. We inherited a 3m raised planting trough as part of the garden structure 15 years ago, only 300cm deep, with a solid concrete base (which we tried to break up, but it was too tough). We just planted in the Peonies and hoped for the best. Apart from topping up with a little compost (keeping the crowns clear) and controlled release fertiliser each year, they are left to their own devises. 15 years on they are brilliantly healthy, although I have to say they have not spread quite as much as they could.
I use the pvc coated garden supports from ‘Leander’…they do mail order and are better quality and cheaper than garden centres. It’s a 10 minute job to push them into the soil around the 10 or 15 plants that we have, sometime in May. The colour is really good and makes the support completely disappear. This is enough for most varieties.
So, not many jobs and absolutely maximum reward!