With their huge blooms, bright colors, and heady fragrance, peonies are a beautiful addition to any garden or landscape. If you’re thinking about including peonies in your gardening plans this year, read on for a look at some fascinating facts about this stunning perennial.
Peonies are big.
One of the most noticeable things about peonies is the sheer size of their showy blooms. Some varieties of peony produce flowers that can be 10 or more inches in diameter: that’s about the size of a birthday cake! According to legend, when the Venetian explorer Marco Polo first saw peonies, he called them “roses as big as cabbages.”
Peonies can live a long time.
Peonies might look like delicate hothouse flowers, but in fact, they’re among the sturdiest and hardiest plants you can choose for your garden. Believe it or not, when they’re properly planted and well cared for, peony plants can live for a century or more. Amazingly, some peonies planted in the western US by early pioneers are still thriving today.
Peonies are linked to ancient Greek and Chinese history and mythology.
Native to Asia and southern Europe, peonies have been cultivated for over two millennia. The flowers are of particular significance in Chinese culture, where they are revered as a symbol of royalty and are believed to bring good luck. The link to Greek mythology is found in the peony’s name. As the legend goes, Paeon was a physician to the Greek gods, and Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine, was his mentor. When Asclepius became jealous of his apprentice’s talents, Zeus transformed Paeon into a peony flower to protect him from Asclepius’ wrath.
Peonies have been used for medicinal purposes.
Peony flowers are not only beautiful, they’re useful as well. For centuries, they have featured in herbal remedies to treat conditions ranging from migraines to asthma, and have also been used to help relieve pain during childbirth. Interestingly, in ancient times peonies were also believed to help with mental wellbeing by offering protection against curses and demonic possession.
There are three different varieties of peonies.
Peonies are generally grouped into three different categories. Herbaceous peonies are the best-known variety—these are the perennial plants you most often see in home gardens. Tree peonies are shrub-like plants that grow well in mild conditions. Less common than both of these, the third peony variety is known as the Itoh peony, or intersectional peony. A cross between an herbaceous and a tree peony, this peony type was developed by the Japanese hybridist Toichi Itoh in 1948.
Peonies attract some animals and repel others.
If you’re having problems with deer or rabbits invading your yard, you might want to think about planting peonies, as these perennials act as a natural repellent for these unwanted intruders. However, if you do choose to add some peonies to your garden, you can expect your ant population to increase. Ants are attracted to the sweet nectar that young peony buds contain, and will climb inside the buds to get at it. While this is good for the peonies in that it helps the buds to open and bloom, it does mean that you might find ants crawling around on any flowers that you cut for an indoor bouquet. To avoid this issue, try cutting your peonies at night, as ants are less active at this time and less likely to be climbing inside the flowers.
Peonies make beautiful cut flowers.
Speaking of cut flowers, one of the main reasons why people love having peonies in their gardens is that cut peony blooms make absolutely gorgeous bouquets. Peonies are an especially popular choice for bridal bouquets, not only for their beauty, but because they symbolize good fortune and a happy marriage.
To help cut peonies last as long as possible, cut the flowers just as they’re starting to bloom: this will allow them to fully open and blossom as part of your indoor bouquet. Keep them in cool water, or better still, make your own home floral preservative by mixing one part lemon-lime soda with three parts water.
Peonies like bright sun and cool temperatures.
Peonies are an excellent choice for beginner gardeners as they are very easy to grow, but two things that these hardy perennials must have are bright sun and cool temperatures. Ideally, peonies should receive at least five or six hours of full sun every day: the more sun the plants get, the more blooms you’ll enjoy. As for temperatures, in order to bloom in the spring, herbaceous peonies need temperatures to be below 40 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 400 hours over the winter. If they don’t get enough cool weather, peonies produce plenty of foliage, but few, if any, flowers.