With their bright, colorful blooms and soft fragrance peonies are a favorite in the spring and early summer garden. Originally grown for the medicinal value of their seeds, leaves and roots, they are now loved for the beauty they add to a landscape. They are easy to grow in a well drained soil with full sunlight. Peonies are available in three main types with several different bloom styles.
Sometimes called bush or garden peonies, herbaceous peonies have soft stems and die to the ground each fall. They are long living perennials. Most varieties bloom in late spring to early summer. They can be found in colors ranging from yellows to pinks, reds and corals, but there are no blue ones. Herbaceous peonies have longer stems and make better cut flowers than other varieties. Some common varieties of herbaceous peonies are Sea Shell, Raspberry Sundae and Festiva Maxima.
Hybrid herbaceous peonies are made when two different species of herbaceous peonies are crossed to make a new plant. Hybrids are created to take the best qualities of the two parent species and merge them into a new variety. Hybrids offer additional colors and foliage types. They also offer earlier spring blooming time. Many hybrids produce one bloom for each stem, making them ideal cut flowers. Some hybrid varieties are Ann Berry Cousins, Athena and Burma Midnight.
Tree peonies are shrubs that have woody stems. They will lose their leaves in the fall but the woody stems will remain through the winter. This variety is not as cold hardy as the herbaceous variety. Tree peonies grow more slowly than other types, but they have larger blooms than those of herbaceous peonies. Tree peonies are usually sold by color instead of named variety.
Intersectional peonies are a cross between tree peonies and herbaceous peonies. They die to the ground in winter, but produce the larger blooms and foliage that resemble those of tree peonies. Intersectional peonies are also called ITOH peonies. Some varieties are Bartzella, Callie’s Memory and Morning Lilac.
Peonies have several different flower types. Single peonies have a single row of large petals surrounding the pollen bearing stamens. Japanese blooms have the beginning of doubling with broader stamens and large anthers. Semi-double flowers have petaloids mixed in among the stamen. The fourth type is the bomb type of flower, which has broad petaloids that are differentiated from the surrounding guard petals. Lastly, the full double bloom has finished the doubling process and all of the stamen and carpels have developed into petals that look like the guard petals.