first pancakes, now peonies

I come from a long ancestry of gardeners. Nothing compares to working outside. (insert: manly grunt) Unfortunately, Northern Michigan is not the ideal location to boast your botanical skills.  Every Spring my perennials struggle to … be perennial.  It’s a painstaking quest to find suitable, hearty hybrids.

My maternal grandmother had an amazing peony garden. A few years back, I incorporated peonies into my landscape in her honor. And, they are still going strong.  So, I’m sowing some more. Hell, I posted her pancake recipe.  May as well cite her as the source for this post.

Peonies have often been called the divas of the Spring garden.  Ironically, my grandmother didn’t have a diva bone in her body.  But, she treated her peonies as such.


In the gardens of China, peonies were known as far back as 1000 BC and were very popular in the imperial gardens. The plant was put under imperial protection during the Tand dynasty. During the Sung dynasty, which began at the end of the tenth century, peonies had spread throughout China. As new dynasties began and emperors moved their courts, peonies were also moved, adding to the widespread cultivation.

At the beginning of the eighth century, peonies reached Japan which is now a major producer. It was not until 1789 that the first tree peony came to Europe. Initially European gardens included only herbaceous species.

As in the eastern world, peonies were originally cultivated in Europe for their medicinal value – used to treat headache, asthma, and childbirth pain. It was not until much later in history that peonies began to be grown in Europe solely for their ornamental qualities.

Growing up diva

  1. Peonies prefer a sunny location with well-drained soil.
  2. Good air circulation around the plant is also important.
  3. Proper growing conditions help peonies avoid their only serious disease problem: botrytis – a fungal diseases present in most soils.
  4. Kept in optimal conditions, a peony plant can live to be over 100 years old
  5. Ants play an important role in helping peonies bloom. When they climb inside the buds, they help them open.

29 ‘shades’ of peonies

The American Peony Society recognizes six broad categories.  However, there are up to 29 different hybrid/grafted varieties – usually limited to coral, numerous shades/intensities of pink, and white.

  • Duchesse de Nemours – the peony ‘standard’ – a 150 years old wedding staple – I do!
  • Garden Treasure  – the only lemon yellow  bloom – #garden diversity
  • Sarah Bernhardht – this heirloom variety dates back to 1906
  • Dr. Alexander Fleming – I got nothin’
  • Raspberry Sundae and Pink Parfait – no ice cream required

sleeping beauty tips

– In China, the petals are parboiled and sweetened for use as a tea-time delicacy, in summer salads, or as garnish for punches and lemonades.

– To maximize vase life – harvest when bud starts to show color, cut stems forearm length, wrap in newspaper and store flat in the refrigerator (thus the sleeping beauty reference). To rehydrate – trim stem and place in warm water.

– Golf ball-sized buds can yield flowers that are 8 inches across.

– Rinse the flower in soapy water before bringing inside.

peony punch

Apparently, whatever buds remain on a peony after harvesting, the plant transfers its energy accordingly. The resulting flower is quite robust.  If the peony plant can do that after 100 years, I’m going to parboil me some petals, baby.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.