Peonies have been stars in gardens throughout the world for centuries. They are prized for their variety in bloom color, fragrance, and composition.
Peonies also have a place in the realm of medicine dating back to ancient Chinese remedies. For simplicity’s sake, Peonies can be divided into herbaceous (the foliage dies back every fall) and tree peonies (woody stems persist in the winter).
We will not discuss the intersectional hybrids (fabulous hybrids between herbaceous and tree peonies). Herbaceous peonies predominantly originate from Paeonia lactiflora and Paeonia officinalis crosses. There are hundreds of varieties with bloom colors ranging through white, pink, lavender, coral and red.
Some varieties simply smell like pollen where others have distinct perfumes. The flower composition can be single (one layer of petals around the central anthers and pistils), semi-double (a single layer of large petals with smaller modified petals around the center) or double (many layers of petals, the center is not visible).
The flowering period typically lasts for 2-3 weeks in April and May. They are wonderful cut flowers. They are best cut before they fully open so you can watch them unfurl. Also, partially opened flowers hold their color and dry well when hung upside down. Unfortunately the delicate petals will shatter if a hard rain falls when they are in full bloom.
Tree peonies are their own unique realm and are always a prized jewel in the garden. Tree peonies include many separate species. Paeonia delavayi, Paeonia ludlowii and Paeonia suffruticosa are the most commonly found at Portland Nursery.
Typically tree peonies bloom before herbaceous peonies in early spring. You may need to cover your tree peony in March to protect the buds from hard frosts. And those flowers are worth the effort. They have a much wider range of colors including yellow, orange and even green shades added to the mix of colors mentioned for herbaceous peonies. Their flowers are composed of the most exquisite crepe paper textured petals that are often blotched or flamed in the center.
Culitvars of Paeonia suffruticosa have very large flowers up to 12” across. Also, their blooms open and close with the day. Each flower can last up to 4-5 days. Tree peonies can have a longer bloom period than herbaceous peonies because of their sheer volume. In some species such as Paeonia delavayi, the flowers give way to fantastic seed pods that hold through the summer.
Once the blooms have gone, both herbaceous and tree peonies continue to shine with their bold foliage. The show truly begins when you see the first signs of the red or bronze foliage stalks of herbaceous peonies emerging from the ground in early spring. These stalks unfurl into rich green, deeply toothed leaves. Tree peonies often have a bluish cast to their leaves. This combined with the size and toothed texture give them almost a tropical look in the garden. In the fall, peony foliage can turn red, orange or yellow depending on the variety.
Below are some of our favorite Peonies commonly found at the nursery. We have the best selection in April and May.
Paeonia ‘Buckeye Belle’- Semi-double dark maroon flowers with crinkled petals. 24-28” high. An early bloomer with strong stems good for cutting.
Paeonia ‘Barrington Belle’- Deep red purple double flowers. Large outer petals with red or pink staminoids around the center. Mid season. Sturdy stems 33” high, free flowering, good for cutting.
Paeonia ‘Eden’s Perfume’- Very fragrant double dark pink flowers. Reputed to be one of the most fragrant peonies with a rose like fragrance. Strong stems 24” high, good for cutting.
Paeonia ‘Lotus Queen’- A stunning pure white single peony. A classy Japanese cultivar with a light fragrance. 30” high, strong stems good for cutting.
Paeonia ‘Sorbet’- Fluffy double pastel pink flowers. Stems 28” tall and sturdy, good for cutting.
We have a wonderful selection of perennials year round, but if you are looking for a specific perennial we will have the best selection when it is in bloom around town. Note: Native plant pages will take you into the Native Plant section.