Peonies are some of the most beautiful plants you can grow, with their sumptuous, velvety blooms in early summer. After the flowers have faded, the beautiful lobed foliage adds interest to beds and borders.
A huge range of peony cultivars is available, suitable for a wide variety of soils and situations. Most are herbaceous, dying back to the ground at the end of the growing season, while tree peonies are actually deciduous shrubs. Intersectional peonies are halfway between the two.
More on growing peonies:
Learn more about each peony type and learn how to care for them, below.
Chinese peonies, as they are often called, were extremely popular in the Edwardian era. There are singles such as ‘Nippon Beauty’ (pictured), doubles, such as ‘Sarah Bernhardt’, and many with petaloid centres, such as ‘Barbara’, where the stamens have been replaced by petals.
Tree peonies have woody branches, from which lax herbaceous stems grow, producing single or double flowers. White, pink, deep-red and peach petalled varieties are available, as well as yellows, such as ‘Mikumino Akebono’. Shelter tree peonies from cold, drying winds.
Molly the witch, as it’s commonly known, produces new, grey-green foliage with a touch of pink, early in the year. This provides the perfect foil for the lemon-coloured flowers, packed with golden anthers and opening from fat, spherical buds. Easy to grow in dappled shade or sun. (Shown here is ‘Claire de Lune’, a cross between P. mlokosewitschii and P. lactiflora).
It was once thought impossible to produce a hybrid from herbaceous and tree peonies. Finally, a breeder succeeded, and nowadays, the yellow ‘Bartzella’ is now considered one of the best yellow varieties. Expect to pay a bit more for such hybrids.
A European native, Paeonia officinalis has been in UK cultivation for nearly 500 years. It is usually found in gardens as the tough yet handsome cultivar, ‘Rubra Plena’, with double cerise-crimson flowers. Thrives in beds and borders.