Peonies are perfect plants for the summer border. The glamorous, blousy flowers complement many of the traditional English garden early summer blooms such as Roses, Geranium and Clematis.
There are three main species of Peony: Herbaceous, Tree and Intersectional (a hybrid of the first two but treated as herbaceous). The most popular is the herbaceous Peony lactiflora – remember last week’s Latin lesson? Lactiflora means milky flower – go figure!
The three rules of growing herbaceous peonies:
- Do not plant too deeply! This is the number one reason Peonies don’t flower and also behind the myth that you shouldn’t move them. The tuberous roots must not be planted more than about 2.5cm below the surface. If they are planted any deeper they may give wonderful foliage but they simply will not flower. If you have a Peony in the garden and it isn’t flowering*, wait until the autumn and then, taking care not to damage the buds on the roots, lift your peony and re-plant it at the right depth. *Peonies can take a few years to get going; it’s best to buy an established plant unless you’re prepared to wait for tuber plants to mature.
- Plant your Peony in a sunny position. Although many varieties will tolerate some shade, if your Peony is in heavy shade it will be reluctant to flower well.
- Peonies like fertile, free-draining soil, they are happy in chalky or clay soils as long as they don’t sit in water in winter.
Peonies are rarely troubled by pests and are hardy plants requiring no winter protection – they actually enjoy the drop in temperature in winter, signalling a dormant period where they store their energy in their roots where the buds are already forming, ready for spring. They do need plenty of water in the spring when forming flower buds (this same rule applies to Azaleas, Rhododendrons and Camellias, water in summer when they are forming their buds)
Feed once in spring with a general purpose fertiliser.