Old-fashioned favourites rooted in yesterday's gardens, peonies are coming on strong in contemporary gardens. Large, blowsy blossoms tumble from lush clumps of lacy green leaves, blooming in pinks, reds, yellow, whites — and the newest colour—coral.
Peonies used to be a flop in the garden, their weighty flowerheads bowed under the rains of a summer storm but, over the past 40 years, peony growers have been busy developing plants with stronger stems. These are the herbaceous hybrids — peonies that have been bred for their brilliant colour, early bloom time, excellent foliage and sturdy stems that bear those billowing blossoms with greater ease.Flowers in all shapes and sizes
Semi-double flower forms are much like the singles, but bear two or three layers of petals that circle a mound of shaggy stamens. Cytherea‚ is one of the best semi-doubles with strong, vigorous stems that bear cherry red, cup-shaped blossoms – they make great cut flowers. The shocking, rosy-pink Paula Fay‚ is another fine semi-double hybrid peony, blooming from early to mid-season.
Crowded with layer after layer of ruffled petals, the double flower forms number among the showiest of the herbaceous peonies. The rich red, double blossoms of Red Charm‚ smother the central stamens with flounces of petals ruffled at the edges. Pretty-in-pink Bess Bostoce‚ is another double beauty with soft pink petals and a mildly alluring fragrance.
The fourth type of flower form is the Japanese or anemone-flowered peony. The distinguishing feature of this elegant flower is the cluster of stamens which have been transformed into slender petals called stamenoids or petaloides. Many Happy Returns‚ is a prolific blooming anemone-flowered hybrid peony with warm red petals randomly edged in yellow. And, the clear pink petals of the anemone-flowered Show Girl‚ embrace creamy yellow petaloides.Care and feeding of peonies
Place them in full sun or light shade, give them well-drained fertile soil, and most peonies will respond with bouquets of blossoms. An early spring application of a low-nitrogen fertilizer such as 5-10-10 wouldn't go amiss, nor would a summer mulch — it helps to suppress weeds, keeps the ground cool and moderates soil moisture levels, all of which add up to a stress-free peony ready to concentrate on blooming. To encourage the peony to produce larger flowers (but fewer of them), some people remove all but the “terminal” flowerbud, the bud at the very end of each stem. But the newer herbaceous hybrid peonies often produce only one bud per stem, making this task, along with staking, unnecessary.
Once peonies have finished flowering, pinch out the spend flowers just below their base. This prevents the plant from devoting its energies to producing seeds, instead focusing its efforts on developing flowers for next year.