entertainingFood & Drinkoutdoorweeders digest

weeder’s digest: peonies

by Grace Bonney

Peony: Take 1

You say Peony, I say Paeony – either way – the Greek myth goes down like this:
Asclepius was the god of healing and medicine. Peaon was his wingman. Peaon got so talented that Asclepius got all jealous. To save Peaon from Asclepius’ wrath, Zeus turned him into a flower; the Peony. Asclepius later got caught raising folks from the dead in exchange for gold. Zeus struck him down with a lightning bolt. I’m not sure who was left to do the healing after that.

Anyway now is the season for these showstoppers. We can get peonies year-round – flown in from New Zealand and Holland – but they’re not the same. Not as full, not as fragrant.

Two weeks ago the really good peonies starting showing. Varieties? Bowl of Cream, Big Ben, Crinkled Linens, Charles Burgess…shall I go on? Festiva Maxima, Felix Krause, Paula Fey, Pillow Talk. The price deflates this time of year from upwards of $15 a stem down to $6 or 7. You don’t need a lot. One or two. Unless you’re trying to appeal to an angry girlfriend (10 full-blown stems packs a wallop and makes a huge bouquet worth drooling over). Peonies are Chuck Bass’s go-to flower for when he’s told Blair Waldorf he doesn’t love her, when in fact he really does and decides to tell her he’s had a change of heart. (She never accepts.) Incidentally, a bouquet of peonies also makes for a good “hit-him-over-the-head” scenario, due to their relative lightness and lack of thorns. Petals slowly trickle out of freeze-frame as music gently rises.

But you’re not the type for drama like that, and probably just want something pretty for your table. Put some sprite or sugar in the water to feed the cut stems.

Peonies grow well in most temperate zones. The best site I’ve found for purchasing them (as roots, not plants) is Song Sparrow. There’s also a wealth of information on the Garden Muse’s blog here.


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  • Peonies are my favorite. I painstakingly transplanted a bunch at my new house severalyears ago. I’d heard they are picky about how they are replanted…but they grew back perfectly. The old-fashioned quality they have, the scent,the layers of petals and even the ants…they are fancy but not stuck up. love it all.

  • LOVE peonies! Last year I planted two plants, they came back great this year so I’m planting 8 more along the side of my yard.

  • Perfect peonies perfectly arranged. Love, love, love, peonies. By the by, what is the white flower with the frayed edges in the fifth photo? Thanks!

  • Oh, my: If only I could grow these in Austin. Lovely! I’ll be looking for some on my way home from work today.

  • thank you, thank you for highlighting my favorite flower, and stunning photos, to boot! what is the fringed white varietal (middle photo)?

  • Peonies are my favorite flower…but I like asclepias (butterfly weed), too. Apparently, Linnaeus named the milk weed genus after Asclepius. The flowers are an important food source for many butterfly larvae, including monarchs!

  • My question: should one buy these before they’re open? I’ve been told that they need ants in order to open properly so I’ve resisted buying the bunches now for sale at the farmers’ mkt. And I worry that the opened ones won’t last more than a day or so.

  • They are my favourite flower. I have a plant in my veranda for some years now, gives me 3-6 flowers each year. This year it had three blooms but the first one was too hasty to pen and withered before blooming. Now waiting for the other two. The colour is exactly like the pin with the darker edges in the second before last photo.

  • Gorgeous! You’re a great writer Sarah. I was visiting Manhattan this weekend, and saw so many beautiful peonies at the corner markets. Even the community garden on East 4th had some gorgeous blooms.

  • peonies rank way up there on my list of favorite flowers. but I had never heard the story. thanks, Sarah, for the pics and info.

  • Dear Sara,
    Thanks for the beautiful doings. What is the name of the flower that looks like a big fried egg up there in the metal watering can, please? Thanks!

  • we are on the exact same page today…my blissful inspiration post on sfgirlbybay is dedicated to the perfect peony…goodness I love this flower…xo t

  • seriously…what camera is used to take such amazing photographs?!?!? You can se every single petal!

  • Drool drool drool. I love Peonies so much, and these pictures are unbelievable. So pink, so lush! One of the great tragedies in my life is that I had a late summer wedding and was not able to have a huge peony bouquet!

  • I love the huge ruffled looking ones. And, when nobody’s looking, I can never resist copping a quick (gentle) feel – so many beautifully soft petals.

  • I LOVE THEM! they were my wedding flowers. I bought some at Whole Foods last week. One bunch of the light pink and one darker pink with a yellow center. They started smelling like burnt rubber though…is that normal??

  • My favorite, too – they come out in shops around my birthday – mid May here. I planted some years ago and it took 5 years before they bloomed – Berkeley is not really the zone for them! I put ice cubes on the dirt around them in winter so they’d get cold enough and finally babied them to emerge. One year I had 20 blooms from 2 plants – my crowning achievement. I moved but still look for them when I go by my old place.

  • I have 5 peony plants that all have their blossoms ready to open (the ants are crawling on them – I guess that means that the nectar is coming up according to one of my gardening books) – anyway we should have hundreds of flowers soon by the looks of the blossoms – for some reason the cold winter here on the east coast really made the blossoms come out in full force this spring in New England.

  • Gorgeous photos! Too bad mine are already spent here in Missouri. I wish I could have seen these photos a few weeks ago. You must just be getting yours now in New York. Enjoy!

  • I love love love peonies… my fav for sure. Thanks for all the great photos of these beauties!

  • mine are so close too – these were so wonderful to see in all their splendor of variety. i buy a new plant each year as a garden treat for myself.. they never dissapoint!

  • Peonies are my absolute favorite! I was so disappointed to hear that they only bloom around May/June when I was planning a November wedding.

  • I absolutely love peonies! Yesterday I had a great time taking pictures for my blog of the peonies at the Botanic Gardens. They are just beginning to bloom here in Dublin, I’ll have to visit them again in a week or two, they will be amazing.

  • Oh this is just feeding my addiction even more. I already reserve too much space in my garden for a flower that only blooms for a few weeks. *sigh*

  • Blair never accepts? :) the finale of season 2 is worth watching.
    Peonies are one of the reasons my heart shrinks a bit when I realize I don’t have a garden.

  • nice!! i just got two bouquets of these and all of them opened SO big and outstretched except for one, I think I’ll try the sprite/sugar tip. thanks!

  • I love them. They were the only flowers in season during our wedding, but I didn’t like them at the time and chose something else – a decision I regret. But this year my husband gave me a bouquet of white peonies for our anniversary, and they are sitting next to me now. I was trying to think of how to describe them this morning – I laughed when I read “Bowl of Cream” – of course!

  • Soooo beautiful! Love peonies and have been trying my hand at growing different types. What a great help the article linked here was! I want to buy all of them on the shopping page. I couldn’t find the one in the 5th pic that’s a grey/blue/white-ish color and frayed on the edging. Do you know the name of it!?

  • just gorgeous! i want a whole backyard filled with peonies, poppies, chrysanthemums, lilacs, and hydrangea; that would be lovely. and a big freestanding hammock strewn with fluffy pillows and a quilt plopped right in the middle of it all; like a ships prow sailing through frothy and wild waves.

  • Lovely, lovely, lovely. Peonies, my favourite flower second to none – especially the rare red ones.

  • Aahh, did you miss the last episode of Gossip Girl. Chuck had a spectacular bouquet of peonies and Blaire sed yes.

  • I got peonies at Trader Joe’s for $6.99 and there were five in the bunch! I suppose this is one of the perks of living in sunny Los Angeles.

  • kate b and becky:
    those look like white “parrot tulips” to me.

    im going peony crazy for my wedding next week. peonies, garden roses and hydrangeas and thats about it.

  • Love your blog! Great interesting stories. I love peonies too! I started out with 25 varieties and it kept going on, so I decided to open a peony farm. Am in love with the corals:
    Coral Charm, Coral Sunset (my newest) and Pink Hawaiian Coral. They are performers! Of course, the itohs are now a mainstay in my garden. And I am looking forward to Hot Chocolate for next year. Good job on the blog.