There's something excessive about the beauty of traditional herbaceous peonies. Perhaps it's their dense foliage that emerges glossy and green each spring. More likely it's their flowers. Full and fluffy, peony blossoms are sometimes so big they must be staked.
The fragrance of old-fashioned peonies is exceptional, too--sweeter and lighter than honeysuckle but just as seductive, particularly on warm nights.
Grow your grandmother's peonies.
Paeonia lactiflora, the standard herbaceous perennial peony many of us remember from childhood, has long been a staple in gardens. If your grandmother grew peonies, they were probably standards.
Standards have soft stems that die to the ground in fall and return in spring, their reddish stalks looking like little horns as they poke through warm earth. In May, standard peonies erupt in lush beauty, producing fragrant flowers until June.
Although cultivars vary, most standard peonies are hardy in Zones 3-8.* They perform well in full sun or partial shade and prefer well-drained soil.
Place herbaceous peonies near entrances so that you can enjoy their scent. Grown singly or as hedges, they add beauty to any landscape.
Bombs & Doubles
Two types of perennial herbaceous peonies traditionally popular in the U.S are the bomb and double varieties.
Bomb peonies have large, flat bottom petals called guards which are topped by a fluffy snowball of petals. Two popular varieties include Laura Dessert, which is white with a touch of lemon yellow, and Raspberry Sundae, a mix of white, yellow and pink.
Double peonies are also a favorite of gardeners, producing fluffy masses of fragrant blossoms. Old-fashioned varieties include Festiva Maxima which has snow-white flowers flecked with red; Sarah Bernhardt, a fragrant pink beauty; and the classic double red Karl Rosenfield.
Semi-Double Peony Plants
Semi-double peonies have flat guard petals surmounted by a cluster of shorter, more upright petals.
The semi-double Edulis Superba, pictured above, is popular cultivar. It produces fragrant blooms with matching guards and centers in a lovely, deep pink.
Japanese Standard Peonies
Japanese Standard Peony Plants
Japanese standard peonies have centers that contrast in color with their guard petals. Not to be confused with the many Japanese hybrids available today, Japanese standards are just like other herbaceous perennials in that they disappear when the weather turns cold and emerge in early spring when the ground warms.
Bowl of Beauty, above, was first introduced in the 1940s and quickly became a favorite of many gardeners.
Not only are its flowers, with their pink guards and fluffy white centers, particularly beautiful, but Bowl of Beauty is also extremely fragrant. Its deep green leaves form a relatively large, compact shrub.
Single-petal standard peonies produce large, flat flowers with yellow centers.
Varieties like 'Krinkled White' can produce blooms as big as dinner plates.
'Tom Eckhardt' is a single-petal perennial peony that's easy to grow and gorgeous.
Hot pink and extremely fragrant, 'Tom Eckhardt' will form a lovely hedge for a cottage garden when planted in a row.
*Find your hardiness zone.
To find out which growing zone you live in, visit BackyardGardener.com for links to hardiness zone maps in Australia, Canada, China, Europe, New Zealand, North America, South America and the U.S.
About the Author
The Dirt Farmer has been an active gardener for over 30 years.
She first began gardening as a child alongside her grandfather on her parents' farm.
Today, The Dirt Farmer gardens at home, volunteers at community gardens and continues to learn about gardening through the MD Master Gardener program.
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on December 01, 2012:
You're not alone, Nolimits Nana! Peonies really are lush and gorgeous.
Nicolette Goff from British Columbia on November 30, 2012:
Not only beautiful, but often with a heady romantic scent. My favorite flower!
moonlake from America on August 03, 2012:
I love peonies and have lots of them. I try to add a new color each year. I have a couple that are single-petal. Enjoyed your hub voted up ...
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on August 03, 2012:
Hey grandmapearl! I love lilacs too--and, of course, peonies. Was just reading last night about a new red peony that rivals Karl Rosenfield. Thanks for sharing the hub & for voting. Glad you stopped by!
Connie Smith from Southern Tier New York State on August 03, 2012:
Next to lilacs, peonies have to be my all-time favorite flower. I think because they remind me of my grandmother's and mother's gardens. I have a few planted in the only sunny spot I have. It is nice to know that they will work in partial shade as well. Thank you for all this great information on a subject near and dear to my heart! Voted Up, Useful, Beautiful, Interesting, Shared, Pinned and Now Following! PHEW!
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on July 22, 2012:
Hi rebeccamealey! I love the double peonies like Festiva Maxima. A lot of people do stake them to keep their big fluffy heads from flopping over. Maybe your neighbors will divide their peonies & give you a few starters! Have a good one, The Dirt Farmer
Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on July 21, 2012:
I too, love peonies. My neighbor had some gorgeous ones this past May. I can see how you would mention that some need to be staked! I must grow some peonies next year!
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on June 09, 2012:
Hey Peggy W. Wish there was a super heat-tolerant peony hybrid just right for Houston! Having lived in Dallas for a time, I'm familiar with some of the challenges of gardening in TX. You deserve lots of praise for your beautiful flowers! Happy gardening, Jill
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 09, 2012:
Wish that they grew down here in Houston. They probably need that resting stage in winter that they would not get down here. I loved growing peonies when we lived in Wisconsin. They are gorgeous! An older lady friend shared some from her garden with us. Thanks for bringing back these memories. Voted up and beautiful.
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on June 16, 2011:
Hey Mellie. B of B grows in zones 2 or 3 through 8 so you might get it to grow if you babied it. It really is gorgeous, isn't it. Thanks for reading--and for the vote!
M.S. Ross on June 15, 2011:
The Bowl of Beauty peonie almost looks like two completely different flowers fused together. What rich, gorgeous color! And the contrasting textures are so interesting! I've always adored peonies, but have never seen any like this one. Beautiful and up.
Jill Spencer (author) from United States on June 12, 2011:
I do too, Foodstuff. Even crawling with ants they're gorgeous. Thanks for stopping by!
Foodstuff from Australia on June 11, 2011:
I adore peonies. They are just the most incredible flowers! Both tree and herbaceous types.
dearabbysmom from Indiana on May 25, 2011:
Gorgeous! My favorite photo of my grandmother is one of her as a young girl, probably junior high age. She is dressed up with her hair curled, and in her lap is large bouquet of peonies. They are "my grandmother's peonies" in more ways than one! Thank you for the momories.