Everything you need to know about Peonies, or Paeonia
Wednesday 7th Jun 2017 – Flower of the week
Everyone’s favourite flower is in season! Here’s our guide to beautiful, blooming, great and glorious peonies.
Bored of putting photos of your breakfast on instagram? Looking for a flower the size of a dinner plate to admire instead?
There are no two ways about it. Peonies are particular popular and for good reason. Just look at that efflorescence of floral, ornate beauty.
Like smashed avocado on sourdough, they’re easy to arrange at home, and they’re very photographic. Every side is a good side.
A little light peony history
Paeonia belongs to the order Saxifragales, which sounds like a medieval cult (pre-requisites: look blousy and beautiful and smell good, initiation: show no fear when presented with secateurs). Not the Ranunculales order, which was previously believed.
Peony’s got their name from Paeon. Paeon was, you guessed it, an ancient Greek chap, who studied under Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and healing. Apparently Asclepius became jealous of his – no doubt younger, better looking and more talented – pupil.
Luckily old Zeus saved Paeon from the wrath of his green-eyed teacher by turning him into the peony flower. A fuller account of this lives here, alongside our other favourite mythological etymological flower tales.
A tree of peonies in your dining room?
According to the Royal Horticultural Society’s Encyclopaedia of Plants and Flowers, Paeonia – common name Peony – is a “genus of late spring-flowering perennials and deciduous shrubs (“tree peonies”), valued for their bold foliage, showy blooms and, in some species, colourful seed pods.”
If you’re going to grow some, you’ll have time to add a BA to your name as they can take up to 3 years to propagate. Maybe a degree in interior design, or garden design, or mechanical engineering? Either way, you should get some peonies at the end of it. Though, if waiting three years for some peonies feels a little long, you could always sign up for a weekly box of flowers and try your luck with us. No weeding required!
You can have any shape you like, as long as it’s a peony shape
Like a seasonal delicacy on a tasting menu, peonies come 4 ways; single, semi-double, double and anemone-form.
Single – usually a cup shaped flower with 1 or 2 rows of large, lightly ruffled petals.
Semi-double – not a tennis game with one rather absent minded player, but a flower with 3 or 4 rows of petals, making it slightly fuller than an single peony.
Double – no doubt the most photographed of the genus, these resplendent flower heads blossom out into a seemingly never ending amount of ruffled petal heaven. The outer two or three rows are often larger, incurving petals, and the inner petals become smaller and more densely arranged as you move to the centre.
Anenome-form (Imperial or Japanese) – these usuually have just 1 or 2 rows of petals, like the single, but with a show-stealing centre, made up of numerous densely-packed narrow petaloids, derived from the stamens.
Delivering a festival of flowers
It’s Peony Fest at Freddie’s Flowers this month and we’re delivering boxes of beautiful peonies, in many delightful flavours.
(We say this figuratively as any ingestion of any part of the peony plant will result in a pretty sore tummy. So if you’re hungry, visit the fruit bowl not the flower box. And keep your fruit bowl away from your cut flowers – your flowers will last longer that way.)
Freddie’s Flowers Peony Spotting Guide
Gardenia is a mostly white, bowl-shaped double peony. Peony Gardenia (Paeonia lactiflora) smells gorgeous and the double flowers open from soft pink buds into large (8-10 inches) creamy white blossoms with a light blush and golden stamens. As cut flowers, they last for a good week – maybe even two with the right care.
Sarah Bernhardt is your classic pink peony. A double and a gorgeous one at that.It’s particularly fashionable this year and goes by the name of Sarah B. The colour varies, as is natural, though it’s easy to identify due to the form.
Mary Nichols is a double, white and rather grand peony with yellow stamens. The petals are large and the white has a warm, almost cream, tone to it. Thanks goes to the German naturalist Peter Pallas for introducing the Chinese varities of paeonia to England, including this beaut.
Jacorma is a pink and very pretty double peony. Usually darker than the Sarah B, the petals are less densely packed than the Sarah B and their shape is more geometric. The name comes from three dutch names Ja(n), Cor and Ma(rie), (De Vroomen, Holland, 1969).
Boule de neige is French for bowl of snow – which sums this whopper up quite nicely.
British Peonies in Freddie’s Flower boxes
Take a drive through the Lincolnshire fens, past fields and fields of veg farms and there, surrounded on all sides by cabbages, you’ll find a swathe of welcome colour and vibrance.
Sue Lamb started growing flowers just outside Spalding about 15 years ago. Sue grows very high quality British peonies, tulips and sunflowers and we love working with her. With her husband and son, she grows flowers with care and dedication all year round. So not only do her flowers bring us great joy, she’s also an important part of the local community, providing year round employment for 20 people.
This is Jamie from Freddie’s meeting Sue for the first time.
Look out for Sue’s Sarah Bernhardt peonies (or, Sarah B’s, if you’re in the know) in your bunch.
Arranging your peonies
You’ll often see peonies arranged in posies – with the stems trimmed right down and the heads quite close together. We prefer to pander to their wild side. Give them a bit of room and keep things natural.
Borrowing a little attitude from our friends the tulips, peonies have a bit of a mind of their own, which should be celebrated. Keep their stems reasonably long and give them enough space to elegantly unfurl. Take a look at Freddie’s video for some more tips.
They’ll open out after a few days, and if you change the water regularly and keep re-trimming the stems they’ll easily last past a week. They cooler the room, the longer they’ll last – so keep them out of direct sunlight and away from radiators.
When they are nearing the end, strip the leaves, trim them down and pop them in a teapot for a final posey-esque hurrah. And send us your photos, as always!
Love flowers? Why not pick up a possy of peonies from Freddies today (or other seasonal flowers, depending on when you read this)?
We love flowers and we love filling your home with glorious bunches of beauty – for just £22 a pop! Sign up today and give us a whirl!