“ Paeonia officinalis. Peonies were extremely popular in Victorian and Edwardian Britain, but they fell out of popularity between the two World Wars. However, many new varieties were bred in the USA during the period from 1930 to 1950. The flowers of herbaceous peonies can be red, pink or white and every shade in between. There are also hybrid peonies with yellow, lavender and orange flowers. There are approximately fifty species, more than 5,000 herbaceous cultivars and hybrids and in the region of 600 or more tree peonies. „
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The breeders have managed to create well over six hundred varieties of peony. There are two types of peony, the first being the herbaceous or the garden peony and then there is the tree peony which grows like a standard on a tall stem.
Peonies start life as a tuber which is generally planted in the Autumn to allow the plant to become established by the Winter. They are hardy perennials, which means that they will withstand all weathers and they flower every year, but try to shelter the plant from keen wind if you can.
The Victorians loved the peony flowers, they used to cut the full heavy blooms to incorporate in their flower arrangements.
Although the peony makes the basis for a very attractive piece of floral art I have always found that the heavy flower heads seem to bow over under their own weight.
My herbaceous peony has been an attraction in my front garden for years, it started life as a small clump that was given to me by an old friend. I took one look at the sorry looking clump and decided that it didn't have long to go, I planted it and from then on it has gone from strength to strength.
What started life as a few sorry looking leaves has now grown into a peony that anyone could be proud of.
The fine specimen that sits in my front garden flowers at the end of May to the beginning of June, I am sure that there must be something in the soil that it particularly likes, because apart from pruning it yearly to keep it at bay I have done nothing else to it.
It provides a mass of large blooms, they are very like a giant rose. This particular variety is a deep blood red. Each huge bloom has a mass of large petals, towards the centre the petals almost form a bud but as the flower expands the leaves become looser. The foliage is a rich deep green, with large attractive leaves. When the peony starts to bloom it seems as though it takes over the front garden, the deep red blooms create a mass of colour and are very attractive.
I tend not to cut any of the blooms, preferring to see them flourish outdoors.
Sadly the huge blooms aren't long lasting, the large petals soon begin to fall and within a few weeks the show is all but over, peonies only flower once a year.
At the end of each season I cut the plant back hard, the plant enjoys being well cut back it likes a period of winter chilling. if I didn't it would make a takeover bid. Time and time again a clump of the peony has been taken by family or visitors who have fallen in love with my vibrant beauty and consequently it lives on in many gardens up and down the country.
For any of you who have a young peony it will pay to remember that as the plant matures you may well need to stake it when it flowers. It always seems as if the flowers all come at once, if you use four bamboo canes for support and wrap garden twine around them to form a frame at least the peony will be supported.
Although their are masses of different types of peony my first choice would be the `cabbage rose` type bloom, so many of the newer peonies have lighter blooms with far less petals.
Some varieties are fragrant but I have never really noticed any powerful perfume coming from my blooms.
Peonies are timeless plants and can be planted anywhere in the country, if the peony decides that it is happy with life then it will thrive for years.
A look on the Internet will provide you with all you need, giving pictures and detailed information about the hundreds of types of the species.
There are people who specialise in growing peonies alone and any reputable garden centre would be able to offer advice.