I love peonies. Any sort of peony. Here is a 101 guide to types of peonies I grow in the garden.
There are 3 types of peony.
These are shrub-like in stature, a metre or so high and wide, but die back completely in the winter. Herbaceous peonies produce great blowsy blooms, like 1950s starlets, with layers of soft chiffon or silken ruffled petals. They are associated with an old fashioned sort of femininity, evocative of powder puffs and full petticoats. Their bosomy plumpness can require some trussing and support.
As the name would suggest, these are taller, and retain a stem in winter. Their foliage is even more exotic than their herbaceous cousins, like someone has folded up each leaf, gone a little bit crazy with the scissors, then shaken them out with a flourish, to reveal their shaggy fans. The flowers of tree peonies have a lighter, more zingy and tropical feel, with a wider colour range. If herbaceous peonies are housewives in chiffon nighties, then tree peonies are power-dressing sisters doing it for themselves. No support is needed.
Intersectional peonies, also known as Itoh peonies, are a cross between the two. They are bushy like a shrub, but have the laser-cut foliage and startling flowers of tree peonies. They come in bright and light shades, often with a deeply contrasting corona around the centre of the bloom.
‘Garden Treasure’ is my first yellow peony. It has soft yellow petals, golden yellow stamens, with a corona of marmalade orange and fresh green carpels. The green carpels really make this one. There is something prehistoric and savage about their ripe succulence. I planted this late, in February, and it doesn’t have any flowerbuds on this year, so I will have to be patient.
Callie’s Memory is a lovely soft apricot, with wine-coloured staining at the base of each petal, along with a picotee edge to the petals. There are the golden stamens and green carpels at the centre. I have one flower on my new plant, and it is looking a little skinny and angular at present. I wonder if it will fill out and get more confident with age?
‘Cora Louise’ has white petals with magenta staining at the centre. I have a few small flowerbuds on this, but I am going to have to be patient.
Not so with ‘Watermelon Wine’. I chose this peony on a whim, because my daughter is obsessed by watermelon (the taste, the texture, the colour, the scent). I love to have plants I associate with particular people.
In early spring, the fans of foliage unfurled. They were stunning when caught in the morning sun.
Where herbaceous peonies have round, drumstick buds, intersectional peonies have buds that are pointed and arranged in a meringue-swirl.
The sepals parted, like a secret-service gadget, to reveal a flash of silk. Notice too the intricate veining of the leaves, and the darker pigmentation around the edges.
And then the flower broke free. I was standing by it when one the petals gave a little defiant flick, and opened wider.
Intersectional peonies tend to have a couple of layers of petals (doubles) rather than the many layers of herbaceous peonies. This makes the flowers lighter and freer. Because they have fewer petals, you can see the carpels and stamens more easily. This one reminded me of prawns and noodles in a bowl. But wait…no…are they slices of watermelon?
These are the structures closer up. The green carpels at the centre are the female part, with a sticky landing pad, the stigma, and the waiting ovaries beneath. The golden stamens are around the edge. These are the male part, providing pollen. The pollen is transferred by insects from the stamens to the stigma. To create a new hybrid, you can dust the pollen from one peony onto the stigma of a different peony.
At the moment, the blooms are at the raspberry end of watermelon. The petals will fade a little towards the edges. I will post more pictures as they change.
This is a highly-scented peony. My Super-Taster (and therefore Super-Sniffer) daughter identified cloves, with a hint of other spices like cumin and turmeric. It is definitely a pleasant smell.
Like herbaceous peonies, once the flowers are over, the foliage will provide a handsome backdrop for other plants through the summer. I must say, the foliage has blown me away with its beauty. It is even more intricate and delicate than that of the herbaceous peony.
The only maintenance needed is for the foliage to be removed in autumn, and perhaps a mulch layer, kept away from the growing crown.
Intersectional peonies are the future. I will be actively encouraging them into the garden, and then they will show me the way to go. There are new possibilities. We can go on a journey together.
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