Featured Flower: Peony
April 26, 2019
Gardeners looking for flowers that are as hardy as they are beautiful need not look farther than the peony! They have an incredible lifespan, are gorgeous in the ground or a vase, and pollinators love them.
Flirty And Fun
Sometimes described as looking like a generous scoop of ice cream, the full-bodied flowers come in single blooms, semi-doubles, and doubles. They’re available in a wide range of colors, including pink, red, magenta, lavender, peach, coral, and white. Not sure which to choose? The Canadian Peony Society has named Coral Sunset 2019’s Peony of the Year!
Peonies have been grown and harvested as medicinal and ornamental plants for more than 2,000 years. Native to Greece, Asia, and Southern Europe, there are several groups of peonies, but the most popular of all is the herbaceous, also known as Chinese peonies.
Yes, you read that correctly! Peonies are perennial plants, making them all the more attractive to the ‘lay’ gardener. They are super hardy up to USDA Zone 2, and as a bonus, are incredibly drought-tolerant, low-maintenance, and deer resistant! Where have these been all my life?
While the blooms are flirty, the shiny, deep green foliage is bushy and remains healthy long after the flowers have been cut or have faded. When the frost hits in the fall, the leaves will die back, but new signs of life will reappear the following spring.
Plant some peonies in your garden, and they might outlive you. According to Chris McLaughlin, author of Growing Heirloom Flowers: Bring the Vintage Beauty of Heritage Blooms to Your Modern Garden, peonies have a lifespan of about 100 years!
The herbaceous variety can be planted in either the spring or the fall. McLaughlin says one of the biggest mistakes gardeners make with peonies is planting them too deep. More than 2 inches beneath the soil and the tuber will not bloom.
They do best in an area of the garden that gets at least five hours of full sun per day, and in nutrient-rich and well-draining soil. You don’t need to water them often, but when you do, give them a big drink.
They need about three years before becoming well-established in the garden; once they are, be prepared to use supports of some kind, as the flowers are prolific and top heavy.
Pollinators Love Peonies
The large peony flowers give off a beautiful fragrance varying from rose or lemon, to honey or musk. Combine that with their vibrant hues, and pollinators come in droves. You’ll likely see many bees, wasps, and other pollinating flies enjoying their sweetness.
Ants Love Peonies
Ants are attracted to the sticky, rich food source on peony petals. While having ants crawling around the garden is no big deal, you don’t want them coming into the house if you’re cutting the flowers.
In her book, Vegetables Love Flowers: Companion Planting For Beauty and Bounty, author Lisa Mason Ziegler recommends placing the cut stem into a vase with flower food. The ants will run down the stem toward the sweet water instead. Problem solved!
Cut peonies can produce long-lasting blooms as long as you harvest them at the right time. Mason Ziegler suggests waiting until the buds, which are usually hard like marbles, turn soft like marshmallows.
When cutting, be sure to leave about one-third of the stem and foliage on the plant. If you cut peonies when the buds are soft, they’ll open up indoors away from the blistering sun and winds, and the blooms will be more magnificent because of it!
Notable Peony Varieties
- Festiva Maxima
- Coral Sunset
- Sarah Bernhardt
- Gay Paree
- Lord Kitchener
- Irwin Altman
- Duchesse de Nemours
Want more featured flowers from Garden Culture? Try: Calendula