Pretty as a peony: In dreamy hues, these fragrant beauties light up summer gardens
- Nigel Colborn says peonies are voluptuous and extravagantly beautiful
- UK-based garden expert said double-flowered peonies are most spectacular
- Said that peonies are easy to grow and thrive in all soil types
Peonies are voluptuous — an apt description of their extravagant beauty. Pretty as roses in dreamy colours, soft-petalled flowers lack thorns. The earliest, Paeonia mlokosewitschii, nicknamed Molly-the-Witch, carries primrose yellow, goblet-shaped flowers in May. Almost as early, P. cambessedesii bears mid-pink flowers above red-backed leaves. More commonplace, P. officinalis has deep pink to rose-red blooms in late spring.
The world’s finest species come from Asia. But thanks to historic nurseries such as Kelways and to centuries of breeding, we have a colourful choice of magnificent varieties. Among those are tree peonies.
Nigel Colborn says that P.cambessedesii (pictured) bears mid-flowers above red-backed blooms and has attractive seed capsules resembling court jesters’ pointy hats
Shrubs rather than trees, they were cultivated and treasured in ancient China. One of the finest is Rock’s peony, P. rockii Joseph Rock. The mid-size, sparse-limbed shrub carries large white flowers with deep purple centres.
The peony’s only downside is brevity. Flowers come in one gorgeous flush, then it’s over.
TWICE AS CHARMING
Double-flowered peonies are the most spectacular. Their flowers are larger and longer lasting than the singles. But single-flowered varieties have their own special charm and attract pollinators.
All peony leaves are attractive. Some also have subtly coloured stems and leaves, especially when young in early spring. Both Molly-the-Witch and P. cambessedesii have attractive seed capsules resembling court jesters’ pointy hats.
UK-based expert says peonies are voluptuous and that the Paeonia mlokosewitschii, nicknamed Molly-the-Witch- pictured, carries primrose yellow, goblet-shaped flowers in May
The finest herbaceous peonies were developed from the Himalayan P. lactiflora. Good varieties include soft pink Sarah Bernhardt, salmon Coral Charm and cream-centred, pink petalled Bowl of Beauty.
Reds include scarlet Buckeye Belle and the hybrid Red Charm. All make excellent cut flowers.
Peonies are straightforward to grow. They retain beauty and vigour for years longer than many perennials. If flower numbers begin to fall, lift and divide your plants in autumn. Tease away healthy divisions and re-plant in a well-lit, sheltered position. Peonies thrive in all soil types, too.