Plant peonies for a garden full of colour

Nurseryman Alec White of Befordshire’s Primrose Hall Nursery urges us to fill our gardens with peonies, that most lushly petalled beauty

Peony Red Charm
Peonies are very easy to grow, just follow a few simple rules when planting and they will bloom spring after spring. Pictured above: if red’s your colour, then Peony Red Charm is an excellent choice.



Peonies are possibly the most indulgent of all flowers. Impervious to the harshest of winters they emerge spring after spring and light up the garden with masses of beautifully decadent blooms. Then, before we’ve really had time to appreciate them, they’re gone - petals scattered on the spring breeze leaving nothing but their perfume in the air.

Many of us are put off growing peonies because of the relatively short flowering season. And there’s an assumption they’re a difficult flower to grow, one best left for the professional gardener, the truly green-fingered. But that’s not the case at all, because peonies are an excellent low-maintenance plant, perfect for beginners and experienced gardeners alike. Don’t be afraid of them, they’re very obliging!


Peonies are an excellent low-maintenance plant

Peony Duchesse de Nemours
Peony Sarah Bernhardt

The sheer size of the flower is impressive, with many of the intersectional peonies producing flowers the size of dinner plates and with colours ranging from white to yellow, pink to purple and everything in between. There are single, semi-double and double flowers, all of which are exceptionally beautiful and that’s before you get to the deliciously fragrant varieties.

In fact most peonies are fragrant, but some more than others. For example, Peony lactiflora ‘Duchesse de Nemours’ AGM is an exquisite double white flower with a cream centre and the most delightful perfume.

And a personal favourite are the delicate blush flowers of Peony lactiflora ‘Catharina Fontijn’ which produce quite an intense perfume. Few other plants can boast such attributes as the peony.


Peony 'Lollipop'. Primrose Hall Nursery specialises in peonies
Peony Coral Charm

How to grow peonies

Don’t plant too deeply. The tuberous roots shouldn’t be more than about 2.5cm below the surface. Any deeper and they may give wonderful foliage but they simply won’t flower. So if you have a peony that isn’t flowering, it’s probably because it was been planted too deeply or perhaps inadvertently got buried. In whch case just wait until autumn and taking care not to damage the buds on the roots, lift the peony and re-plant it at the right depth.

Plant in a sunny position. Though many varieties will tolerate some shade (for eg Peony lactiflora ‘White Wings’) if your peony is in heavy shade it will be reluctant to flower well. 

* Plant in fertile, free draining soil. Peonies are not generally too fussy about the soil and are quite happy in chalky or clay soil provided it’s free draining. One thing they don’t like is sittting in water in winter.

As you can see, the rules really only apply to planting your peony. Once in the ground it will be quite content to be left alone. In fact if you have rich, fertile soil you probably don’t need to feed it; but if your soil is not so good a balanced general fertiliser such as Growmore applied in spring should do the trick. It’s also a good idea to cut back and remove dead leaves in autumn to avoid the plant wilting.

I hope I can encourage you to develop a love of peonies because they’re truly a highlight of the year. The show they put on may be relatively short - but my goodness what a show it is. Peonies’ hardiness, low maintenance and longevity are reasons enough to be charmed by them - but it’s their abundance, colour and fragrance that make them so heartstopping.