Tree peonies

Posted: Tuesday 6 May 2014
by James Alexander-Sinclair

This is a tree peony. Not just any old tree peony, but one with a flower that looks like a newly washed pink Pekingese and is about the same size.

This is a tree peony. Not just any old tree peony, but one with a flower that looks like a newly washed pink Pekingese and is about the same size. It's magnificent, in a rather over-the-top sort of way.

I'm not absolutely sure that it's a variety of this magnificent family of plants I'd want in my garden, but I'm thrilled to see it in someone else’s.

I've no idea which variety it is, I'm afraid. Perhaps one of you will recognise it? I asked on Facebook what its name was. Mostly, I received suggestions such as 'Alan' or 'Keith, which were amusing but unhelpful. Especially as neither of those names would suit: it's much more of an 'Evangeline' or 'Shanterelle'.

Tree peonies aren't strictly trees, but deciduous shrubs reaching about two metres in height - depending on which one you have. They're unrepentantly extravagant in their outlook, but are remarkably easy to grow - provided you follow a few basic rules. For instance, keep them away from very windy sites (as petals like this are be easily shredded and will blow away) and hot sun. A shady corner with good air circulation is ideal.

There's a bit of risk involved in growing any sort of peony, as their full magnificence is somewhat weather dependent. If we get a really wet spring, then sadly some of the buds will get sodden and rot. However, if the weather's fine then these plants will fill your heart with joy.

Tree peonies need a decent soil with lots of organic matter to get them started - some will take up to four years to flower (but are well worth the wait) - and a good dose of bonemeal in the autumn. Pruning is minimal: you just need to cut off any dead twigs in the spring.

If you get the chance to go to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, then make a point of visiting the Kelways stand in the Great Pavilion. They've been exhibiting there for nigh on a century and can talk you through the options.

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AlineDobbie 07/05/2014 at 16:46

This is almost certainly Jin Zui Yang Fei (tipsy Imperial concubine) as matched in the beautiful book by Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall on Peonies The Imperial Flower.

We had it for years and then sadly last year it started to die despite all our efforts but I have some wonderful photos of it whilst at its peak and miss it dreadfully. It would very often have as many as 25 blooms on it and I thoroughly recommend it for its beauty.

sharon hicks 07/05/2014 at 17:51

Can you tell me will peonies be OK to put in my front garden which gets very hot in summer sun almost all day ...thank you 


ladygreenfinger 08/05/2014 at 16:59

Our yellow tree peony (name also unknown) annually drops its large black seeds which root around the garden and are potted up for friends. Flowering lasts only a short time but the pretty leaves make a lacy shadow in hot sun.
I read that monks used the black seeds as rosary beads so I'm collecting them to make a string of beads for myself.

Bigbarb 08/05/2014 at 18:38

There was a tree peony in our garden when we bought the house - I had to email the previous owner to ask what it was... It is sitting in nearly no earth in a very windy spot catching salt from the North Sea which is just across the road here in the Scottish Borders.
Now I understand why it isn't doing a whole lot of activity! I will offer it my apologies and some mulch tomorrow, plus encourage the neighbouring potentilla to cuddle up and protect from the wind!
Thank you

cera wilkins 09/05/2014 at 12:59

I have 4 tree peonies in my garden, it has taken 4 years for 2 of them to flower, big, silky deep pink to red, one bloom on each plant, the other 2 did not flower. The flowers have lasted well, so beautiful, it makes me so happy to look at them. I have 15 ordinary peonies, the yellow ones are so gorgeous. I have planted some peonies in my rose beds, I think they'll do and look well together. Here's hoping, will know next year, it takes time for peonies to flower.

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