Garden notes // Peonies

Ah, peonies! The flower that really ought to credit instagram for its current crazy popularity (seriously, if you need a pick-me-up, click on that link!).

I will be the first to put my hand up to say that (a) I adore peonies but that (b) my adoration was almost entirely fuelled by instagram floral-porn. I was totally unaware of their existence until a few years ago, but now I have well and truly jumped onto that crowded bandwagon. I will also sheepishly admit that I thought they were called "pee-own-knees" until I was corrected (twice!) at the plant nursery. 

But really, why wouldn't we all fall in love with them? "Pee-en-knees" (rhymes with Pyrenees) are gorgeous!

And what's more, peonies (specifically herbaceous peonies or Paeonia lactiflora) are very simple and unfussy to grow if you live in one of the cooler areas in Australia. My experience to date has been limited to the four that I planted two years ago, but I have 12 more to go in this weekend (although it is far too late in the season to plant them - they are best planted in autumn when you're putting in bulbs).

Something that has stopped me from putting in any new rhizomes until now is deciding where to plant them... It's one thing to know that peonies like full sun and protection from strong winds, but I'm unsure of what to plant with them and how to incorporate them into a garden bed. Peonies can survive for decades or even hundreds of years, but they really don't like to be moved. So wherever they are planted it better be the right spot and as we are still creating our garden, that's not so easy to work out!

Peonies prefer an open position and good airflow around them, so how can you integrate them into a mixed border or bed? It's actually really hard to find this detail anywhere because a lot of the information available is about dedicated peony garden beds (like the dreamy peony garden of Martha Stewart - perfection). For mixed plantings, it seems to come down to asking other gardeners for advice on what has worked for them... So let's do that shall we!

The lovely Felicite has been kind enough to share some photos of her peonies, and explain how she has them growing. Felicite's garden is also in the southern tablelands of NSW, just a little north of ours (so it has the perfect cool climate required for growing peonies). She has her peonies growing in a very sheltered position on an east-facing wall, and they are mixed in with roses, lupins, foxgloves and delphiniums.

The result is just perfect!!!

Gosh I adore these photos of Felicite's garden! I particularly love that first shot, where you can see the rising mist through the gum trees beyond the landscaped garden. 

Felicite's varieties are Karl Rosenfield (double flower in deep pink, shown in the above photos) and Marie Lemoine (double white). She buys a lot of roses through a mailorder nursery in Victoria - Misty Downs - which also sell peonies. I have spent far too much time flipping back and forth in the online catalogue since she sent me the link, so you can be sure that you will be seeing many of the roses and peonies they sell in our garden in future years. In the meantime, just so that I don't forget the varieties that I am planting this year...

  • Marguerite Gerard (double cherry pink)
  • Duchesse De Nemour (double ivory white)
  • Sarah Bernhardt (double apple blossom pink)
  • Felix Supreme (double ruby red)

So based on Felicite's experience, I am thinking of planting my peonies in beds with old Bourbon, Austin and species roses, and then including some flowering annuals and perennials of different heights to make a cottage garden-y mixed bed. This website also gives a huge range of plants that work well with peonies, although it is such an exhaustive list that it kind of makes me even more unsure of where to plant them in our garden!

Before I end, here's one more from last spring, just to fill the craving and because oh-my-gosh, don't peonies age so gracefully...

Thank you so much Felicite for sharing your peonies with us! (Also, yay for instagram for creating a little informal southern tablelands gardening community... let's keep it growing ;)