Herbaceous peonies, oriental beauties

Red herbaceous peony bloom seen from below

Queen of flowers in China, peony was introduced to Europe after the Chinese emperor of the time had sent a collection of the flowers to Napoleon Bonaparte’s wife Joséphine.

Today, thanks to two centuries of hybridization, a great many shapes and colors have become available, including herbaceous peony varieties.

A herbaceous peony is a peony that loses stems and leaves in Winter. They grow back from the roots in Spring.

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Peony, a short story and different types

Swaying at the tip of their slender stalks, Chinese peonies charm us with their round heads woven from countless petals.

This oriental beauty symbolizes Love in its native country and seduces romantic souls to this today…

And it is a favorite of florists, too, because it’s perfect for bouquets!

Initial light pastel hues grew bolder over the years and now include many colors, some even quite stark, like fuchsia or carmine red, even violet purple. Flowers can be:

  • simple (one or two rows of petals),
  • Japanese or anemone blooms (still more petal rows, stamens still visible),
  • semi-double (multiple petal rows, visible stamens),
  • double (numerous petals hiding the stamens),
  • globular type (petals only with no trace of the stamens),
  • and even bomb double type (petals only, with longer petals in the center presenting a spherical flower shape).

Some herbaceous peony varieties are scented, like these:

  • ‘Festiva Maxima’ which has white petals mottled with red spots,
  • ‘Dr Alexander Flemming’ hosting bright pink flowers,
  • and the ‘Duchesse de Nemours’ which bears beautiful white pom poms!

Caring for peonies well

Herbaceous peonies like neutral soil, good exposure to the sun, and protection from drafts and wind. Usually, depending on the species, they bloom from April to June. Often purchased in nursing pots, they are preferably planted at the end of spring in a wide hole, with a handful of soil-enriching compost. You can also add them to your vegetable patch: they like it when the soil is soft and well-tilled, and are great companions to vegetables, herbs and spices.

Water over the first summer, and then refrain from water, except in cases of drought: peonies are vulnerable to excess moisture. Add fertilizer (manure, compost or powdered bones) at the beginning of fall and in spring after the blooming phase. If your peonies don’t bloom during the first year, wait it out. They may need time to start blooming, but once they have started, each subsequent year will see more and more flowers appear…

Laure Hamann

Herbaceous peony with pink blossoms in a garden bed

Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Peony reaching for the sky by Bogdanata ☆ under Pixabay license
Garden bed with peony by Eric Michelat ★ under Pixabay license