Peony – Paeonia officinalis

A classic beauty. The peony is not only one of our oldest cultivated plants, it is also one of our most beautiful perennials. A hardy and reliable plant, once established its glorious blooms and handsome foliage will enrich any garden.

ANNUAL CALENDAR

SPRING

March:

New growth appears very early in spring. Remove any winter covering as early as possible. It is important to feed with compost or complete fertilizer.

SUMMER

June:

Flowering begins.

After flowering, feed again with complete fertilizer.

AUTUMN

August-September:

The best time for planting. If absolutely necessary, divide and replant old plants.

Make sure the roots are spread out in a horizontal position.

WINTER

November-December:

Peony needs little winter care. If temperatures fall well below freezing, protect it by covering with fir branches or bracken.

Planting

The peony should be planted in early autumn, from August to September. This gives the roots a chance to become established before new growth appears in early spring.

Handle the fleshy roots carefully and place them horizontally in the soil. The ‘eyes’, where new shoots will appear, should be no more than 5cm under the surface. Add one or two handfuls of bone meal to the soil around the roots.

Divide carefully

The peony should not be divided and replanted before it is ten years old. Even then, you should consider division only if the plant is no longer flowering as abundantly as it once did. The peony grows best if its roots are left alone.

Dividing should be carried out during late summer or early autumn. The roots grow very deep — up to a metre down. Dig up root sections, then divide them very carefully with a sharp knife. Each root sec¬tion should have between three and five eyes.

Although division is a complicated process, it gives quicker results than attempting to grow the peony from seed. It may take three to five years before a seedling is suffi-ciently developed to flower.

Regular feeding

The peony needs regular feeding to sustain its large foliage and abundant flowers. During early spring, feed with compost or well rotted manure. This provides nutrients for summer flowering. After flowering, or in autumn, it is a good idea to nourish the plant further by giving it some bone meal.

The peony’s beautiful pink, white or bright red flowers are unrivalled by any other garden plant for their vivid display.

The peony was already widespread around the coast of the Mediterranean in pre-Christian times, and the Greeks valued the plant’s healing properties very highly. Today, the roots of Paeonia officinalis are still used in the production of certain medicines, but it is this plant’s striking appearance that we prize.

The peony still grows wild in southern Europe, but has been grown in gardens since the 16th century. In Europe, the flower first became fashionable at the beginning of the 19th century. The wild species has single flowers, but there are four kinds of modern cultivated peony. These are single, semi-double, double and anemone-flowered varieties. The one most frequently seen in gardens is the double-flowered peony.

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PROTECT AGAINST EXTREME WEATHER

It is best to plant the shrubby species of peony in a spot that will not expose the plant to early morning sun after frost at night. If winter temperatures drop below -10°C, protect the peony with a covering of evergreen branches or bracken.

An unmistakable flower

The peony is well suited to a herbaceous border. Delphinium and bearded iris make good companion flowers, since they flower at the same time as the peony, during early summer. However, the peony is equally attractive grown as a solitary specimen plant in the foreground, with nothing to detract from its showy blooms.

An ideal cut flower

The peony is not only a delightful garden plant — the double varieties in particular make wonderful cut flowers. If you cut the peony just as the flower is about to open, it will keep in a vase for several days, and sometimes for as long as a week. Just three red peonies in a vase can pro- vide a splash of colour that brings a room to life.

A long and healthy life

The robust peony likes a sunny location and well-drained soil, but the spot must not be too dry. Very heavy soil can be improved with sand or coir.

If you choose its location with care, the peony will bloom for many years. It is renowned for being particularly long-lived. Some varieties can grow happily in the same spot for decades — perhaps even for centuries.

When choosing a location for the plant, bear in mind that it does not take at all well to being moved and so should be left in the same place for as long as possible. Also, remember that it can take several years to flower.

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SITUATION

Sunny, with plenty of space. Preferably no morning sun. It is important for the peony to remain in the same spot for many years.

SOIL

Well-nourished and well-drained, which will not dry out. Very heavy soil should be improved with coir or composted bark.

CARE

Cover in winter only in exposed locations. Grow in an open position. Protect the young buds against frost during hard winters by covering with a bark mulch.

IMPORTANT

If you want to cut peonies to display indoors, pick them just before the buds open but when they have already begun to show colour. Do not cut off all the leaves from the stalk. Leave at least the bottom leaf attached to the plant.

PLANT HEALTH

The peony is one of the most disease-resistant perennials available. But although it is hardy, it does have a tendency to grey mould fungus. A grey velvety growth appears on the flower buds and stem bases. This can occur during prolonged wet periods or if the plant has been watered too much. Make sure that air can circulate around the peony except when covering it to protect against severe frost. Peony wilt is also a problem which can be avoided in a similar way. This condition turns the base of the shoots brown and finally kills them. It also produces brown patches on the leaves of other shoots.

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