Growing peonies begin their journey from shoots, that come from the roots which have eyes. In later winter, shoots appear if planted properly, rise turning to green. Buds form then around late April begin to swell and to buds, then to blossoms. It's magical!
My history with this amazing flower begins in the early 20th century when my mom brought peonies to Washington, DC from her original home. Through the years, I added to them and soon created a substantial peony garden. Pictured above, is a showing from May 10, 2019.
If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you have seen some of them in all of their glory. Growing peonies is one of the easiest plants to start your garden with. Plant in well-drained soil, and in full sun for the best results.
Pictured below, one of my prized peony plants planted in 2017. I discovered by accident, that this plant opens and closes according to the daylight. This is one that I am hoping will come back. Delicate white petals open to reveal a custard yellow/gold center.
History of Peonies
Judith Irven an accomplished Vermont landscape designer and garden writer, delights in helping people everywhere create beautiful gardens. You can visit her online at OutdoorSpacesVermont.com. She writes, "The people of China have nurtured and cultivated peonies for over two thousand years. Originally they used peonies as a flavoring for food. But since the time of the elegant Tang dynasty (618-907), they bred peonies for their beautiful flowers and grew them in the imperial courts of China. n. Then, about a thousand years ago, the people of Japan also took a liking to growing peonies for their beautiful flowers. In the eighteenth century, peony cultivation and breeding took hold in both England and France."
Because naturally-occurring peony species are genetically related, it means many of them can easily be crossed with one another. So, over the years, hybridizers have produced thousands of different ‘cultivated varieties’—or cultivars—all the plants that today we call ‘peonies’.
Herbaceous Perennials: Most peony cultivars are herbaceous and typically grow about three feet high and up to four feet wide, with blooms up to eight inches in diameter. These will die back to the ground in the winter.
Tree Peonies: There are also a number of beautiful woody-stemmed peony shrubs that stay above ground in the winter and are called ‘tree peonies’. These grow about five feet high and are highly prized for their sumptuous blossoms up to a foot across.
Itoh Hybrids: Toichi Itoh was a skilled Japanese plant breeder and in the 1940’s Itoh experimented with cross-fertilizing tree and herbaceous peonies. The outcome was a totally new class of peony, the lovely ‘intersectionals’ or ‘Itoh hybrids’. Although Itoh hybrids die back in winter like their herbaceous peony parentage, they have also inherited the enormous blooms and finely divided leaves from their tree peony parentage."
My Peony Garden
I have many varieties, and through the years I have become fascinated with the blooming habits and fragrances the emanate from each of them. Some are more fragrant than others. The size of the petals and how long they last also depends on the species. Alas, the one downfall is the wind, but some can withstand more wind than others. Once the stalks shoot up from the eyes as early as February in some areas, the buds form, then swell. Often, just as most have burst open, a storm rolls up and at times beats them down. I have staked them before, but I don't really care for the look as I prefer the casual arrangement they create in nature. The garden also developed an intense week infestation which is driving me nearly insane by now. In 2021 I intend to try something different.
The Tragedy I (we) Survived
During the last week of March, I was on a mission to finally do something to kill the weed infestation in my back yard and under my peony garden. Honestly, I don't know where it all came from, but year after year, the peonies triumph and give me the same spectacular showing of grace and beauty.
Unfortunately, as I employed help to deal with the weeds I came home from the grocery store to find that most of the tall stalks, were slumped over like half cooked pasta. WHAT? What is going on? After talking to the lawn guy, I found out that he sprayed weed killer underneath the peonies, after I specifically said "don't spray any closer than the edge of the bed (about a foot and a half). Take a deep breath. We quickly grabbed the Miracle Gro and attempted to flush out the ground...too late for that. So we had a discussion, in which I remained completely calm and civilized. The agreement was, we would wait and see what happens, and he would replace what expired. The white one that opens and closes with the daylight was one that expired (so I thought).
Over the next couple of weeks, I watched some of them attempt to continue growing, but several became gnarled and deformed; rigid like giant paper clips. Ugh! In late April and early May, I had some blooms, but nothing close to the years before. I ended up just digging up some of them, and four ended up in the trash can. The image below is not the worst of them.
Summer came and went and when September rolled around again, I was inspired to do what would ultimately be the best thing for all. The only way to first, eliminate the weeds was to dig several inches under the ground. Second, who knows how much residue was left on the peony roots. So on November 28th, Edgar and his team came and we implemented phase one.
After digging up the first two, I was surprised at how large the root system was. I can only imagine what the roots system would look like on a 100-year old plant.
In the above video, you are seeing one of the blush colored plants, that has the highest number of petals. As I washed away the old soil and weed killer residue, I was a little concerned because the roots were broken off in so many places. I ordered square pots from Crate and Barrel, and we first placed some scraps of landscape covering on the bottom along with some twigs so that water can drain. Peonies must have well drained soil. Mixing two different soils, we carefully placed the roots in making sure that the eyes sit slighting above the surface. If you plant them too deeply, they will not bloom. I will have to look for some type of foot to elevate the bottom so that air can pass underneath.
I moved a total of about 25 of them either into the seven pots, or in some other garden areas (without weeds). Above is an image from spring 2021. Unfortunately my Fall 2020 image got deleted last year, but look closely near the blue arrows. Just imagine the little brown stalks are what it looked like before the this year's growth began. The new shoots are burgundy red, and can appear as early as February if the weather is unseasonably warm.
If you have or desire to experience the beauty of peonies, feel free to reach out to me. I am almost an expert at this point and would be glad to assist. For more extensive guidance, reach out to Judith online at the link above.
In closing, just remember, September, October and November are the best times to plant bare root or transplants. If planting in the early spring, set the ones that are are already budding in pots from your local nursery.
Look for an update in May and keep your fingers crossed for them, and for me!