Growbag Blog

Peonies pile on the pleasure of early summer


What a gladsome thing a peony is!  Peonies are the ‘over-the-tops’ of late spring and early summer from the buxom ‘officinalis’ beauties so often seen in cottage gardens to the glamorous ‘suffruticosa’ tree peonies with their sumptuous blooms.

About 12 years ago, I fell for one of these in a garden-centre; it’s called Handaijin (very dully translated as ‘Minister of Flowers’  – definitely should get one of these in the Government) , it is now six feet tall, with the most beautiful grey/pink leaves preceding lots of frankly unbelievable dinner-plate sized flowers of bright reddish-purple.  (I see it is listed in the peonygarden catalogue as ‘gigantic’!).

Tree Peony ‘Hanadaijinn’.

It is easy to make the mistake of planting herbaceous peonies too deeply – take it from me, you get lots of leaves but no flowers – but tree peonies are okay a bit deeper, and the bigger-flowered ones need plenty of discreet support for their overloaded branches. What you CAN do with peonies is move them…..yes, I know it’s traditional wisdom that you can’t, but as long as you do it carefully, and never into soggy soil, they will settle into a new home quite happily.

I remember seeing a wonderful garden at Chelsea Flower Show by Luciano Guibellei, with a sea of the lovely blood-red lactiflora variety ‘Buckeye Belle’ floating ethereally among waves of (I think) Stipa tenuissima – fleeting, totally impractical, but magical.  Kelways, one of the doyens of peony-growing, sell this gorgeous thing, along with hundreds of others, of course.

I am very proud of my eight-foot tree peony Lutea ludlowii because I grew it from a seed many years ago.

Its very pretty lemon-yellow flowers are small and gone in the blink of an eye but the bright green serrated leaves are a joy in themselves and………..well…did I mention that I grew it from a seed?………. Laura is bound to have tales of much greater glory in this area……


Elaine is right. Peony flowers are gorgeous beyond compare but fleeting and ephemeral and if space is at a premium in your garden you may not have room for some of the statuesque beauties she’s been describing.
The trick in these cases is to scale down and find a variety that has attributes beside it’s one moment of flowering glory.

My desert island peony is P. cambessedesii  (yes I know,completely unpronounceable, but it helps when you know that it was named after Jaques Cambessedes, the French botanist who discovered it in the limestone cliffs on the island of Majorca).

Every stage of this pint sized peony’s life cycle is delectable.

Luscious pink buds coming up through the soil in spring……………………..

Very early in the year the noses of its young stems push through the ground suffused with pink or red, opening to pretty glaucous palmate leave with red veins and purple undersides. One the first peonies to flower in spring the simple but impossibly pretty pink petals have wavy edges set off by red stamens.

In flower

But for me the crowning glory of this plant comes later in the year, when it’s seed pods split to reveal jewel like red and black seeds. Only the black seeds are fertile, the red ones are there to attract the attention of birds so they will pick out the seeds and disperse them.
And yes Elaine of course I grow this plant from seed …. and actually have a little batch of them ready for new homes.

I think Caroline’s warm chalky garden would be perfect for this little gem, but before she presents me with a note from matron to say that East Lothian is too far north for her to give it a go, I should point out that

Kevock nursery in Edinburgh (not 10 miles from where she lives and a proper family-based business who grow all their plants themselves) stock it in their catalogue.


Busted! OK I’ll try harder (although secretly I am going  to keep that note for matron in my back pocket. Kevock is further inland and more sheltered from the wind than us).

Actually, keen to impress E & L I forked out a slightly eye-watering sum for an intersectional peony from Binny Plants (also nearby) a few years ago. What is it? Well as I understand it intersectional peonies are a cross between a tree peony and herbaceous peony. They have tree peony flowers and leaves but, and here’s the clever bit, behave like herbaceous peonies, dying down to the ground in winter and re-emerging each spring.

Root of intersectional peony ‘Bartzella’ – I paid top dollar for this bad boy.

Trouble is, although it looks like it’s having the time of its life it’s hardly ever produced a single flower. Having read Elaine’s bit about planting depths I’m wondering if this another desperately unsatisfactory occasion when I should have listened to her advice. Damn it.

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