The peony is named after Paean, who was a student of the Greek god of medicine, Asclepius. Zeus turned Paean into the peony to save him from the anger of Asclepius, who had become jealous of his student’s healing abilities.
Peonies bloom in a number of colours including pink, peach, white and maroon. There are also herbaceous varieties, which die back in winter, and tree peonies that remain active throughout winter.
Peonies are native to north Japan, parts of Asia, parts of North America and southern Europe. It prefers woodland habitats, but can be found growing on mountainous terrain as well.
Tree peonies are available throughout the year and herbaceous peonies are available from late May to early July. Peony seeds have to go through a double chill, as the roots emerge after the first chill and the leaves after the second chill. Seedlings take around five years to mature for flowering.
The genus Paeonia is the only member of the Paeoniceae family. There are around 38 species of peony. The most popular herbaceous peony varieties are P.officinalis and P.lactiflora, while P.japonica is commonly grown in UK gardens.
Peonies prefer full sun and slightly alkaline, well-drained soil. If a peony becomes top-heavy with flowers, staking will prevent the stems from breaking. Once peonies die back in the autumn, they should be cut back to ground level.
Did You Know?
Peonies have been cultivated for over 2,000 years, more for their medicinal qualities than for ornament. The Japanese protect the earliest peony blooms from the snow by protecting them with individual small thatched shelters. The Greeks believed that peonies were an important medicine and could cure more than 20 ailments. The Chinese name for peony is “sho yu” which means “most beautiful”