Peony – Paeonia: A Royal Addition to your Perennial Garden

Peony 'Rubra Plena'

Above: Peony ‘Rubra Plena,’ an early-booming variety. Photo courtesy Walters Gardens
Peonies with their long-lived, refined excellence are a royal tradition in every garden and wear this crown proudly. Peonies have been giving pleasure as far back as ancient botanic records go. Many Peony varieties are natives of Western North America which give them a preference to our climate, for they thrive in cooler climates where they will receive a long winter chill. The three most popular varieties, early blooming, mid-season blooming, and late-blooming Peonies are somewhat different but are still the beloved Peony. Take a quick look at these three varieties:

Early-Blooming Peonies

Paeonia officinalis, ‘Rubra Plena’ (pictured above) is one of the classic first Peonies. ‘Rubra’ is the early blooming red Peony that gardeners historically think of as Memorial Day flowers. ‘Rubra Plena’ grows upright and lightweight stems may need staking while in bloom. After the heavy blooms are removed the foliage stays attractive all summer.

Rubra Plena Peony bush
‘Rubra Plena’ is a prolific early-bloomer.

Mid Season-Blooming Peonies

The Mid-season bloomers go by the classification of Peony lacitflora.  These peonies are the most popular, are readily available and have the largest blooms. Lacifloria peonies require staking for their double bomb blooms can end up with their heads in the mud after a rainstorm.

Karl Rosenfield peony
The flower of a mid-season blooming Peony, ‘Karl Rosenfield’ is the best double red, and is named for the son of the breeder who developed the cultivar.
Peony Lactiflora
A mid-season bloomer, Peony Lactiflora

Late-Blooming Peonies

The ‘Bowl of Beauty’ peonies are named cultivars of the Peony Lactiflora and are the last to bloom–typically in mid-June. “Bowl of Beauty” is just one term or color of these single blooms with a smaller frilly peony in the center. The flowers open wide into five-inch, double-rowed blooms. Their outer petals are wavy and surround an inner, small peony with yellow-colored stamens. Other Lactifolia cultivars bloom in many distinctive colors that include the spectrum of Peony colors and combinations

Peony Lactiflora
A close-up of the Peony Lactiflora cultivar.

The ‘Bowl of Beauty’ Peonies are shorter and do not need staking. The lighter weight of the blooms seems to give this Peony an air of innocence and youth.

Bowl of Beauty Peonies
A beautiful bush full of “Bowl of Beauty” type Peonies.

Peonies are so traditional and so long-lived (up to a hundred years and longer with regular division), that a garden needs all three of these beauties. Because their bloom season is so short, I recommend that you plant all three varieties to extend the blooming season. Lynn, from has produced a delightful YouTube tutorial on how to grow Peonies on the Sensible Gardening Channel.

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