Slow-growing but rewarding, herbaceous peonies are large and imposing plants with a brief but impressive flowering in late spring to early summer. Grow them for their large, brightly coloured, often spicily scented, showy flowers. Eventually forming generous clumps, besides their flowers these perennials have impressive dissected foliage, often tinged red in spring. Traditional cottage garden plants, these long-lived and drought-tolerant plants also work well with modern perennial plantings.
Herbaceous peonies have single or double bowl-shaped flowers in white, cream, pink, yellow and red. The blooms are either loosely crammed with petals or more open, but are often spicily scented. They reach up to 20cm (8in) across. The attractive leaves emerge with rich reddish tones are divided into nine or more leaflets and, in some, these are further divided into three. The leaves often colour well in autumn.
Fertile, well-drained soil in a sunny position without competition from neighbouring plants is best.
Peonies dislike disturbance, so should be left in their planting positions to develop their full potential. They do not do well on poor or very wet soils or in shade. Being deep rooted, peonies do not make good plants for containers.
Did you know?
It’s usually advisable to stake the plants as soon as growth emerges in spring. The ants you’ll often see crawling over the unopened flower buds in spring cause no problems.
The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.