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A Complete Guide to Peonies: Beauty in Bloom

December 18, 2023 | Flowers
Welcome to the enchanting world of peonies, a flower that has captivated hearts and gardens around the globe. Known for their lush, voluminous blooms and captivating fragrances, Peonies symbolise prosperity, romance, and good fortune. 

In this guide, we'll explore everything from the rich history of peonies to practical tips for growing and maintaining them. Whether you're a seasoned gardener or a budding floral enthusiast, this journey through the life of peonies promises to be as delightful as the flowers themselves.

History of Peonies

The story of peonies begins in ancient times, with roots tracing back to Asia, Southern Europe, and Western North America. Revered in Chinese culture for over a thousand years, the peony was considered the 'king of flowers,' symbolising wealth, honour, and high social status.

In Greek mythology, the peony is linked to Paeon, a student of Asclepius, the god of medicine, which gives the flower its scientific name, Paeonia. Over centuries, peonies have woven their way into the art, culture, and gardens across the world, each blooming a whisper of history and legend.

Types of Peonies

Peonies can be broadly classified into three types: Herbaceous, Tree, and Itoh peonies.

Peonies Blooming

Herbaceous Peonies

These are the classic peonies that most gardeners are familiar with. They die back to the ground each winter and re-emerge in spring. Herbaceous peonies are known for their large, showy flowers and ease of care.

Tree Peonies

Unlike their herbaceous cousins, tree peonies do not die back to the ground. They have woody stems that remain standing throughout the year. Tree peonies offer a wider range of colours and forms compared to herbaceous varieties.

Itoh Peonies

A hybrid of herbaceous and tree peonies, Itoh peonies combine the best of both worlds. They have large flowers and long blooming periods of tree peonies, with the hardiness and growth habit of herbaceous peonies.

Growing Peonies: A Step-by-Step Guide

Growing Peonies

Selecting the Right Spot

  • Sunlight Needs: Choose a location with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight.
  • Soil Requirements: Well-draining soil with a neutral to slightly acidic pH is ideal.

Planting Peonies

  • Best Time to Plant: Autumn, a few weeks before the ground freezes.
  • Planting Depth: Plant the roots with the eyes (budding points) no more than 2 inches below the soil surface.
  • Spacing: Space plants about 3 feet apart to allow growth and air circulation.

After planting, water the peonies thoroughly. They require consistent moisture but should not be overwatered. The initial planting stage is crucial for establishing a healthy root system, which is the foundation for future growth and blooming.

Caring for Peonies: Ensuring Vibrant Blooms

Pink and White Peonies

Watering and Nutrition

  • Watering: Deep watering once a week is ideal, adjusted based on weather conditions.
  • Fertilising: Apply a low-nitrogen fertiliser in spring as new growth appears.

Pruning and Maintenance

  • Herbaceous Peonies: Cut back stems to ground level in the fall.
  • Tree Peonies: Prune in late winter or early spring to remove dead wood and shape the plant.

Regular pruning not only keeps the plant healthy but also encourages better blooms the following season. It's also a good time to inspect the plant for any signs of disease or pests.

Pest and Disease Management

  • Common Pests: Aphids and thrips can be controlled with insecticidal soap.
  • Disease Prevention: Ensure good air circulation and clean up fallen debris to prevent fungal diseases like botrytis blight and powdery mildew.

Effective pest and disease management is key to maintaining the health and beauty of your peonies. Regular inspection and prompt action can prevent most issues from becoming serious problems.

Peonies and Symbolism

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In Art and Literature

Peonies have been a muse for artists and writers for centuries, often depicted in paintings, sculptures, and literary works. They are revered as symbols of romance, prosperity, and a happy marriage. This symbolism is deeply rooted in various cultures, where peonies are seen as tokens of good luck and love.

In Modern Culture

Today, peonies continue to hold a special place in modern culture. They are a popular choice in bridal bouquets and festive decorations, embodying good fortune and joy. Their lush, full blooms and range of colours make them a favourite for celebrations and events, symbolising new beginnings and bliss.
Uses of Peonies

Cutting Flowers

Peonies make excellent cut flowers. For the longest-lasting indoor displays, cut the peonies in the bud stage, when the buds are soft and the colour is just starting to show. This timing ensures the flowers will open fully and last longer once brought indoors.

Culinary Uses

Not just a feast for the eyes, some peony petals are edible and can be a delightful addition to culinary creations. They can be used in salads, as garnishes, or even crystallised for a decorative touch on cakes and desserts.

Peonies Around the World

Peony in a Vase

Global Variations

The cultivation and appreciation of peonies vary globally, with different regions developing unique varieties suited to their climates. This diversity is a testament to the adaptability and enduring appeal of peonies.

Festivals and Celebrations

Peonies are celebrated worldwide, with festivals and shows dedicated to these magnificent flowers. Notable events include the Luoyang Peony Festival in China, renowned for showcasing an extensive variety of peonies.

In Australia, peony events and shows are becoming increasingly popular, particularly in cooler regions like Tasmania and Victoria, where the climate is conducive to growing these beautiful blooms. 

These events often feature garden tours, workshops, and peony-inspired art, celebrating the flower's beauty and cultural significance in the Australian context.


Peonies are more than just flowers; they represent living art, steeped in history and brimming with beauty. From the gardens of ancient emperors to modern-day celebrations, they continue to captivate and enchant. 
Whether you're planting your first peony or are a seasoned grower in Australia or elsewhere, these magnificent blooms promise to bring joy and beauty to your garden for years to come.