Paeonia (pay-own-ee-uh) or peony is a favorite flower of many northern gardens. The sweet-scented flowers are large and range in colors of pink, red, white and pale yellow with attractive stems of pink to red. The foliage remains interesting in the garden all season. Peonies make an excellent border or small hedge but may need the support of a low wire cage to prevent flopping. They are low maintenance when established but need soil preparation and well-drained soil. Let the leaves fade before trimming to allow for the feeding of the roots that fix next years blooms.
Peonies are native to China but are suited to northern United States. They need a winter chill and do not thrive in the American south where temperatures do not drop below 20 degrees F. Plant them correctly in full sun, a minimum of six hours a day, in rich soil. A layer of composted manure in the bottom of the hole will get the plant off to a good start. If planted to deep, flower buds will turn brown. Plant the eyes just below the soil surface 1 ½”-2”. The plant may not bloom the first year as it is still developing a root system.
Peonies are not native to North America but have an interesting connection to Minnesota. For many years Faribault, Minnesota, was the peony capital of the world, due to the work of O.F. Brand family. O.F. Brand began planting peonies in 1868 from seed, sometimes waiting ten years for the plants to bloom. He sold bare root plants through a mail-order catalog. By 1920, Brand Peonies were the best in the country. The city of Faribault celebrated the fame with a community peony festival that featured a parade and peony queen. The depression ended the festival but Brand Peonies, later known as Tischler Peonies, continued until 1980.
For many gardeners the easy maintenance, and fragrant cutting flower make peonies a favorite garden plant.
Sources for this article
Schier, Mary Lahr. The Northern Gardener: from apples to zinnias, 150 years of garden wisdom. 2017: Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota.
Heger, Mike and John Whitman. Growing Perennials in Cold Climates. 1998: John Whitman Contemporary Books, Lincolnwood, Illinois.