This time of the season ushers in the blooming of one of my favourite flowers: the peony (Paeonia). From its spiky and tough first shoots, to its hard little buds, to its eventual full blooms, the peony is one of the most eye-catching flowers to make its appearance in June here in the northern hemisphere.
A botanist once described the peony as the flamingo of the garden, and I sincerely believe that she was right. Although the stalks and leaves of peonies give the look of a hardy plant, the actual flower is often so large and so heavy that it requires a stake, or fencing, in order to stay upright. In fact, I’ve noticed that even some of the most manicured lawns in our neighbourhood have rows of peonies lying in gentle arches, with the fully-blooming flowers touching the grass.
Like the previously-mentioned bleeding heart, the peony is not a native flower to western gardens. Although its name comes from Greek mythology (Paeon was a student of medicine who, quite typically, was turned into his namesake when his teacher became jealous of his knowledge), peonies are generally thought to have originated in Asia. The key to healthy and blooming peonies is good soil (slightly acidic), a cold winter that will allow the plant to go dormant, and adequate air circulation around the plant itself.
Whether you plant bare-root or nursery plants, peonies are generally prepared in the fall. One of the most important tips that stumps a lot of novices is soil depth – as it turns out, a peony bush will not flower if the ‘eye’ of the root (the rounded top) is planted more than 2″ from the surface of the garden. If planted correctly, a peony bush should start blooming in the second year.
Peonies are often seen in Oriental art, as in the example below, which remains part of the Brooklyn Museum’s collection. From a more modern perspective, peonies are one of the most common wedding flowers, especially given that they bloom during June, the traditional month of marriages. Whether you simply want a bunch of peonies to display on a windowsill, or are trying to grow a garden’s worth, peonies are one of the loveliest blooms. In fact, I might just have to head down to the market today and buy myself a dozen, before the moment passes me by.
For more information on peony planting, see The Weekend Gardener. All the images above are either my own, or via Pinterest. Click on each on for its source.