Also known as: Paeonia

Peonies, a showy flower with a delicate fragrance, can be the focal point of any garden. Known as the state flower of Indiana and once as the national flower of China, peonies are prized for their color and beauty. In fact, it is said that in Japan, the peony is known as "the prime minister of flowers". Along with the chrysanthemum and cherry blossom, the peony is a famous Asian flower. The name peony comes from the Greek name Paion, who was physician to the Greek gods, since the plants were used to cure many ailments.

Historically, peonies were cultivated 4000 years ago in China. The Chinese used them for medicine, notably to stop convulsions. Buddhist monks brought the flower to Japan, where it was highly prized by the Japanese. The plants were very expensive, so it's said that if you can afford to have a peony in your garden, that you belong to a rich family indeed. Nowadays, peonies grace many gardens and provide a gentle perfume, turning a normal flowerbed into a fragrance garden.

Peonies can be quite tall flowers, adding height to your garden design by growing up to 32 inches, adding girth with a spread of up to 33 inches. The foliage is dark green and pointed, and the flowers resemble colorful, feathery cabbages. Peonies can come in many colors, including white, cream, yellow, pink, red and purple. The flowering season tends to be in the spring and early summer.

Growing Peonies

Peonies need full sun in order to grow well, but they will tolerate partial shade. Propagation from seed isn't recommended, because the flowers can take up to three years to grow and flower. Plant peonies in the spring or fall, about 36 inches apart, in well-drained fertile soil with lots of compost. Division isn't required, but to propagate new plants, it should be done in the fall. Planting depth is very important – if the plants aren't rooted deeply enough, they won't flower. Make sure that the tuber is planted at least 2 inches below the soil's surface.

Recommended Varieties

Peonies are well-established flowers with many, many cultivars. Sometimes, some varieties will have less fragrance than others. Popular varieties include "Chinese Peony" and "Common Peony". Within these varieties, there are a number of hybrids with different colors and slightly different blooms.

Landscape Design Tips

Peonies look great when there's a group of them surrounding other spring-blooming plants. Peony blossoms last quite a long time, so when other plants die, the peonies' widespread growth cover the dead foliage and flowers. If you're sensitive to smell, locate peonies downwind from where you normally sit outside.

Gardening Zones

Peonies are hardy from zones 2 to 8.

Pests and Problems

Peonies often have infestations of ants, which feed on their nectar. They can also experience rot, fungal and bacterial spots, ringspot virus, nematodes, Japanese beetles and blight.