The peony shrub provides gardens with a vibrant splash of color during the summer months. The family contains over 30 varieties. Most are herbaceous perennials plants that flower annually and die back in winter. Others are larger deciduous shrubs that lose their leaves in winter and are known as "tree peonies."
Peonies are native in Europe, East Asia and North America and are found in meadows and mountainous areas. They also thrive in poor soil conditions. Plants typically grow 1 1/2 to 3 feet high and shrubs reach 5 to 10 feet tall. Their vibrant colors make them popular plants to grow in cottage style garden designs that incorporate old-fashioned, colorful plant varieties.
Cultivated plants can reach 100 years old as a result of being able to adapt to poor soils and challenging climatic conditions. To survive, peonies can shrink in size to conserve water in their root systems and energy that is absorbed from the sun. They have the ability to stay in this state until growing conditions have improved.
Flowers are brilliantly colored with scarlet, mauve, yellow, white and pink the most common shades. They are large, often fragrant, and flower in spring and summer. Peonies are a national emblem in China and they are popular in Chinese art. Annual peony shows and exhibitions are held in the city of Luoyang.
Petals are arranged in complex arrangements are classified into different types: single, semi-double, double and anemone-form. Ohio State University says that flowering usually lasts one week in late spring to early summer and advises growing different varieties to maximize color in your garden. It says that by planting a mixture of early, mid and late season bloomers you can extend flowering in your garden for six weeks.
Peonies like well-drained soils that have a pH of 6.5 to 7.5 and are fertile and contain plenty of organic matter. Ideally plant in full sun or partial shade in a sheltered spot that does not suffer from winds that will dry out the soil. Seeds can take three years to germinate, so it is advisable to buy a plant from a supplier or take cuttings from an existing plant or shrub during the summer.