Simply Living Journal

Organic flower grower talks about growing peonies


One of my all-time favourite flowers is peonies often referred to as peony roses due to their likeness in appearance to roses yet they aren’t related. They really are however, the Queen of flowers with spectacularly beautiful, large, soft blooms that come in a range of colours from white, ivory and lemon to shades of mauve, pink, orange and red and they can be successfully grown in the home garden in cooler climates.

Peonies are often denoted as being difficult plants to grow but they are really simple to grow when you know how, and once established they require little maintenance. When you get it right, people will admire and fall in love with your peonies for years to come. They flower throughout spring and can live for more than 100 years.

The fattest and most scrumptious of all flowers, a rare fusion of fluff and majesty, the peony is now coming into bloom.
–Henry Mitchell, American writer (1923-93)

Peonies take pride of place adorning many of the amazing gardens of China and Europe and were painted by 19th century impressionist artists including Renoir.

They are native to Asia, Southern Europe and Western North America and have a history that dates back to being cultivated in China more than 4,000 years ago.

There are two types of peony plants, herbaceous peonies and tree peonies. Funnily enough tree peonies aren’t at all like trees. They are short bushes that grow to about a metre in height with stick like branches that are left after the plant has finished blooming and become dormant. Fortunately, both the tree peony and the herbaceous peony like the same conditions and environment and both produce the same extraordinarily beautiful blooms.

There are a few simple steps to successfully growing peonies:

  1. As with any plant, make sure you have the right climate to begin with. Peonies need a cooler temperature for bud formation so you will need to be living in a cooler climate. In Australia they are best grown in mountain districts, parts of Victoria and Tasmania.
  2. You will need well drained soil as peonies hate having soggy feet.  It’s easy to work out whether or not your soil is well drained. Dig a hole and if water in it takes a day or two to drain away, it’s safe to say it’s not. You can correct this with lots of compost and by raising your garden bed above the natural soil level with more compost and soil loaded with organic matter.
  3. Make sure the garden bed is in full sun. Peonies require a lot of sun to flower, unless you are in a slightly warmer climate in which case you might need to think about partial shade to protect them from the heat of the midday sun.
  4. Add loads of lime. In their natural environment peonies thrive in a lime-based soil.  So when I say lime, I mean about 2 litres of lime in the hole you plant them in and then 2 litres of lime every year. If in doubt add more lime not less.

  1. Apply some good organic fertilizer. I was once told by an older lady who was an expert peony grower to dig a hole, put in some lime and throw in a dead rat, and then plant. I laughed and wondered how many dead rats she thought I had handily laying around. Well-rotted chook poo is my favourite but cow or sheep manure is just as good. Be a bit careful with horse manure because you can get a lot of weed seed with it and it may be mixed with wood chips that take time to break down.
  2. Plant your herbaceous peony with the eyes facing upwards and about 5 centimetres below the surface. Plant your tree peony as you would any other plant. Make sure they are not competing too much with other plants.
  3. Don’t smother your herbaceous peony with too much mulch.  The beautiful herbaceous peonies find it hard to push through too much. The tree peonies however, stay above ground with dormant branches during winter and then burst into life in spring, so feel free to mulch these.
  4. Be patient.  It can take a few years to get your first flowers but I promise you the wait is worth it.

By Heather Gillespie, Organic flower grower