The difficult-to-grow peony can be a heartbreaker

Photo by Stephanie Reger

Every few years, I torture myself and attempt to grow one of the most beautiful flowers in the world. My object of sure disappointment is the peony. But aren’t they just gorgeous!

According to our friends at Wikipedia, the peony is a flowering plant of the genus Paeonia. They are native to Asia, Europe and Western North America. Peony experts can attest to around 40 or so species of this most lovely flower. They are among the most popular garden plants in some regions, but alas, not easy to grow here.

You find the most successful peony growers in colder climes. Those lucky cowboys in Wyoming and Utah grow them easily, as do Russians and the Swiss. But there is a chance for us with certain species. We can search and maybe find species that grow in the Mediterranean like P. coriacea or P.russii. It is a mission to find them though.

The peony is named after Paeon, a physician in ancient Greece. In ancient Greece and China, these flowers have a long history with use for thousands of years in both medicine and art. In the gardens of China, peonies were known as far back as 1000 B.C. The imperial gardens were planted with many of these lush flowers. When the peony reached Japan it was grafted and improved. Many of the world’s tree peonies come from Japan. Not until 1789 did the first peony come to Europe.

Interestingly, the ancient Chinese texts say that the peony was used for flavoring food. Remember Confucius? He is quoted to have said, “I eat nothing without (peony) sauce. I enjoy it very much because of its flavor.”

The American Peony Society recognizes six flower forms for all types of peonies: Single, Japanese, Anemone, Semi-double, Bomb and Double. Peony experts look at peonies as garden flowers, small trees and herbs. An interesting road trip is visiting the Peony Garden at Nichols Arboretum in Michigan. And how about the Peony Fair in Luoyang, China, every April? The New York Botanical Garden celebrates the peony every spring, too.

If you would like to try and frustrate yourself or are an intrepid gardener, try your hand at growing the peony. You may consider growing them in containers. In the spring, find a large container and a more heat tolerant peony. Use a peat-based potting mix with soil only an inch or so above the tuber and water in well. Add some compost to the soil and slow-release, low-nitrogen fertilizer later in the spring. They will smile with 6-8 hours of sunlight daily. They bloom best after they reach maturity at three years old. I hope you have better luck than me. 

By the way, area nurseries can supply you with these beauties if all else fails.


Joette Reger can be reached by e-mail at joreger [at] msn [dot] com and on Facebook at “Gardengate with Joette Reger.”