by Ray AllenIf you live where Peonies grow, it's the same every year in late spring. Certain homes have them in beds, borders, along drives - and anywhere they grow, they create probably the most beautiful clump of flowering of the whole season. Big, usually fluffy flowers in glossy green foliage.
Perennial Peonies are what experienced gardeners call investment plants. They're some of the most permanent landscaping you can buy. In fact, many continue blooming beautifully for over 100 years. Once they're established, they're as hardy and dependable as oaks, creating a fantastic season of bloom in your yard year after year.
Planting Peonies Adding Peonies to your garden is not difficult. All you need is full sun and good soil. (In even partial shade, the bloom will be scant or non-existent--keep them out in the sun!) As most gardeners know, the roots look like a bunch of carrots--thick long tapering tuber-like masses that increase every year. Feed them, water them, and the clumps will expand rapidly, and more and more blooms will result.
Types of Peonies: The standard perennial Peony species is Paeonia lactiflora but within the species, there are thousands of hybrids old and new. And there are several flower types:
Single Peonies are the huge, wide-open ones with just one row of overlapping petals.Like huge poppies, they create dinnerplate-size beauty that's really unmatched in the garden.The singles are less frequently seen in American gardens because of our passion for petals-people just prefer the doubles. One of the most famous singles is the breathtaking Krinkled White, an old classic and still a big favorite.
Japanese Peonies, not to be confused with Tree Peonies which often come from Japan, is a flower form somewhat similar to the singles, but with a more elaborate center. A great example is the big favorite, stunning Bowl of Beauty, with glistening cherry red petals petals plus fluffy yellow center, creating spectacular color contrast.
Semi-double Peonies are just that. They have the basic bottom row of large petals seen on the singles (often called the guard petals), but on top, there are more shorter petals, developing from the center. A great example is the beautiful red Edulis Superba.
Bomb Peonies are the ones with the guard petals flat and large, with a pile of petaling sitting upon them-sort of like a fluffly snowball sitting on a plate. Some of the most-loved and dramatic peonies are bombs including the magnificent Laura Dessert and the dramatic Raspberry Sundae As these two illustrate, there are bombs of various shapes and sizes. With Raspberry Sundae, the large bomb not only adds size and height, it gives the overall bloom a stunning palette of three colors-white guard petals, a collar of yellow, and then pastel pink making up the center. In Laura Dessert, the coloring is all white, with a hint of lemon yellow in the bomb.
Double Peonies are probably the most popular, and the most widely planted. Excellent examples are the famous Victorian introduction, Festiva Maxima with its snowy white flowers with red flecks, and Sarah Bernhardt, the all-time popular double pink with huge flowers and great fragrance. Other popular doubles are the red Karl Rosenfield and white Shirley Temple.
There's really no end to a gardener's pleasure with Peonies. They're all good for cutting. The foliage stays glossy and green all summer long, and they attract almost no pests. (Don't confuse the standard perennial Peony with the Tree Peony, a separate group. Tree Peonies are more shrub like, and don't die down completely each winter.)
Staking: This is important, since once a Peony is established, the heavy flowers are often too heavy for its stems.You don't have to stake them, but if you don't, you're going to have big beautiful flowers nodding down in the mud. So once you have a healthy clump, use peony rings to keep them upright. The rings are simply wheel-like wire arrangements that stand up over the Peony like a little wire table as the plant sprouts in the spring. With upright supports, the Peony ring is placed so the shoots will grow up through the round wire bale. Of course, the foliage quickly hides the ring, and you have a beautifully-supported clump well before the flowers open.