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Peony: The Summer's Most Fragrant flower

by dig the dirt editor

The opening of the first peony bloom is the official beginning of summer. All of a sudden, it’s as though a game of floral dominoes has started: The opening of the first peony triggers a second and then a third…until the entire garden is filled with their huge flowers and luxurious scent.


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Peonies in the garden

There’s no shame in admitting it--we can’t seem to plant enough peonies in the garden. We tuck tree peonies into perennial borders, line up single-petaled peonies shoulder to shoulder with our old-fashioned rambling roses, and space them out in rows between the dwarf apple trees in the orchard. These plentiful perennials reward us with armloads of flowers for cutting, a heady fragrance that can be breathed in nearly anywhere in the garden, and lots of nodding flowers to bridge the gap between fading late-spring borders and the blooms of summer--all with an embarrassingly little amount of work on our part. Peonies require a sunny, well-protected area to thrive in. And for that, they’ll grow and bloom happily, lasting for decades.

The forms of the peony

The peony wears many faces--its form is as versatile as its fragrance. Blooming in a wide range of colors (white, pink, red, and yellow), peonies always seem to outshine the other flowers in bloom at the same time. Here’s a list of our favorites:


Single-flowered peonies have large, flat blooms, often with contrasting stamens: ‘Krinkled White’ has pure white petals with dramatic yellow stamens.  For a deep-colored peony that looks great in bouquets, try ‘Mahogany,’ a deep red peony with touches of white.

Semi-double flowered peonies have the delicacy of single-flowered forms, with lovely contrasting centers. ‘Miss America’ is an American Peony Society Gold Medal winner with milk-white petals surrounding a golden yellow center. Or try the exotic ‘Marie Jacquin,’ whose cupped flower resembles a water lily.


Double-flowered peonies are packed with petals--clip them for bouquets and their lovely fragrance. Plant several for a full range of colors: ‘Mrs. Bryce Fontaine’ has stunning crimson petals, ‘Minuet’ bears light pink flowers, and ‘Mrs. James Kelway’ blooms white, with a pink cast.


Japanese peonies include ‘Sunny Side Up’ has pure white petals with a golden center, 'Lotus Queen' has beautiful white petals with a golden center, and 'Westerner' which has pink petals with a bright yellow center.


Tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa) are originally from China and have been in cultivation since the sixth century. This peony is different from the herbaceous peonies above--tree peonies don’t die back to the ground in the winter. Instead they merely lose their leaves, while their woody stems and branches remain intact all winter. Tree peonies ship in the spring.



peony, Peonies, tree peony