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Voluptuous Peonies…in my Garden

April 26, 2012

Peoniesthey’re every gardener’s dream. Well, at least this gardener. They are more voluptuous than some of my roses and provide an old-fashioned charm to my garden. Bearing spectacular bowl-sized blooms, peonies can last 50 years or more in your garden. Having planted more than 50 peonies in my garden over the years, I think of planting one as a lifetime commitment.


Paeonia ‘Sarah Bernhardt’


Herbaceous vs. Tree vs. Intersectional

I. There are several different types of peonies. Herbaceous Peonies are the most well known type and I have several in my garden; Sarah Bernhardt, Bowl of Beauty, Festiva Maxima and Karl Rosenfield, just to name a few. Herbaceous peonies can be planted in both spring and fall. They need at least 5 hours of full sun with rich well-draining soil. Like most long-lived perennials it can take three years for them to bloom prolifically but they are well worth the wait. Herbaceous peonies require very little care and live for generations.


Paeonia ‘Paul M. Wild’- double ruby red blooms


Paeonia ‘Festiva Maxima’ -double pure white blooms


Paeonia ‘Bowl of Beauty’- fuchsia pink petals create a bowl around a pale yellow center.


Paeonia ‘Karl Rosenfield’


Paeonia ‘Jan Van Leeuwen’- single satinly-white blossoms with contrasting large yellow center


Paeonia ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ -huge, double pink blossoms. One of my favorites.


II.  Tree Peonies are woody perennial shrubs.  Tree peonies grow slowly, producing 1 to 6 inches of new growth each year. Given well-drained soil and dappled sunlight, they will live for centuries. I haven’t acquired any in my garden yet but I plan to in the future.


III. Intersectional Peonies, also know as Itoh Hybrids, are a hybrid produced by crossing a tree peony with an herbaceous peony. I came across this variety when a gardening friend of mine found them for half price (Itoh peonies can cost around $75-$100 @) and he picked me up several at a local nursery that was going out of business.  Itoh peonies produce tree peony flowers and leaves on plants that behave like herbaceous peonies, dying down to the ground in winter and reemerging each spring. A mature plant can produce 50 or more dinner-plate sized flowers on strong short stems that do not require staking, which is a plus if you having as many peonies as I do. Each plant can remain in bloom for 3-4 weeks with new buds continually opening over this period. My seven Itoh Peonies were spectacular this year considering I just planted them last fall. So far I am very impressed!

Keiko Itoh Peony


Paeonia (Itoh hybrid) ‘Pink Double Dandy’


Itoh peony which was unmarked when I bought it. It is a beauty though…go figure.



Since I garden in Zone 7b, Southerners can find it a bit tricky to grow peonies. But certain selections will tolerate our mild winters. The key to growing peonies successfully in the South is in the planting. The secret is to not plant the “eyes” of the peonies very deep. Peonies should be planted only 2 1/2 to 3 inches deep. Also, fall is the optimal planting time.

For arrangements, cut when the buds are just opening. Don’t cut full-bloom peonies, they won’t last long.

Peony arrangement from my garden..











April 26, 2012 at 10:31 am

I grow herbaceous peonies, a lots of them as well, in my zone 6 Michigan garden. They are just budding out now. Voluptuous is the perfect way to describe peonies.

April 27, 2012 at 11:45 am

I love all of them too, I just wish they lasted longer. This seems to be a good year for them. I could get addicted to them easily!

April 27, 2012 at 1:30 pm

Great article! Thank you! I have only one tree peony. It was effected by late cold last year and its buds were frozen. This year, it promises to give me more blooms than ever before. Thanks again for the info and pictures!!!

May 1, 2012 at 11:44 pm

I love peonies, too! Mine are just budding now. I would love to find some half price Itoh peonies. You are so lucky… and you’re right they are voluptuous!

May 2, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Beautiful! I love peonies and have been adding some every year to the garden. They are still young, but some are now budding…can’t wait. Yours are spectacular!

August 23, 2012 at 7:10 am

Peonies are definitely one of my favorite flowers. They just like a full skirted dancer with all those layers of petals. Truly beautiful and the bouquet you made is spectacular. I’m keeping this like to see if I can grown them here in the Northeast. :)

July 5, 2014 at 4:07 am

Very good article on peonies. As peony growers, we find more and more gardeners in warmer areas across the South and in parts of California having success, as you mention, with keeping care to have the buds ‘eyes’ of the peony roots just under ground level. We also hear reports of success with the Itoh peonies in areas that don’t have quite enough cold in the winters for most herbaceous peony varieties.

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