Plant of the Month: June 2022

Species Peonies in my Garden

by Pat Hunter

The family is Paeoniaceae. The sole genus is Paeonia.  Paeony or Peony is a recent corruption of the Latin name. Paeon was a Greek mythological figure who discovered peonies growing on Mount Olympus.

In Medieval times peonies had great medicinal value, the roots and seeds were used for many illnesses, they were a great cure all!

The first two species introduced to Britain by the Romans were Peony officinalis and Peony mascula. There are around 33 species at the present time.

Peonies are derided for their short flowering time, but I think their garden worth is increased by their superb foliage as it emerges in Spring. This is often bright red and most species have divided leaves – some very finely, as in Peony tenuifolia, often called the fern leaved peony.

Spring foliage.

Peony cambessedesii

The first to flower in my garden is the Peony cambessedesii or Majorcan Peony. By the common name, it is not reliable for hardiness. Hence, I have one in a pot and a second planted on a scree bed with its back to a wall of rocks.

The next to flower is Peony daurica subsp. mlokosewitschii, otherwise known as Molly the Witch! This is an easy tall, probably 80cms, plant with bluish green leaves.

Peony daurica subsp. mlokosewitschii

Peony daurica subsp. mlokosewitschii are easy from seed. The picture below shows seed sown in Autumn 2019 on the right and seed sown in 2020 on the left, taken this month. Who knows what the offspring will look like!

Peony wittmanniana is one of my more recent additions with pale pink to white single bowl shaped flowers.

Peony wittmanniana

There is then a positive flurry of flowering.

Peony officinalis, the common peony with its dark green leaves and in my case it has very double flowers, this is a long lasting peony. I know that this clump is well over 30 years old. It is obviously a very easy one to grow.

Peony officinalis ‘Rubra Plena’

At the same time Peony officinalis ‘Anemoniflora Rosea’ which is slightly shorter in stature but has yellow edged staminodes in a single bowl shaped flower.

Peony officinalis ‘Anemoniflora Rosea

If you prefer a white Peony, there is Peony emodi, the ‘Early Windflower’ it has single nodding heads with yellow/gold stamens. This is also known as the Himalayan Peony, growing in Kashmir, N.Pakistan and Afghanistan at high altitude.

Peony emodi

Species peonies work well in the garden, seen here with Geum ‘Bell Bank’

Tree peonies flower here at the same time as the herbaceous peonies, this is the red Peony delavayi, which can grow to 2 metres and is really a deciduous shrub – as is the yellow version .

Another one flowering at present is Peony anomala.

This is a short plant, maybe 50cms, with well dissected leaflets but not as fine as tenuifolia.

There is a short wait in the flowering time now for Peony veitchii var. woodwardii. This is a short plant – maybe 30cms. I grow this on a wall top and its nodding pink flowers, several to a stem, can be looked into. It has deeply cut leaves and has started self seeding in the border.

Peony veitchii var. woodwardii

The garden interest of these peonies has already spanned from April foliage to the end of May and I still have the main lactiflora season to start!

There is a slight overlap now as the lactifloras take over, but that is a story for another year!

Image courtesy of Pat Hunter