10 Facts About Peonies


Peony facts for gardeners

In celebration of Sophie's favourite flower and our Peony collection of homewares, bags and accessories, our friends at The English Garden magazine have pulled together ten fascinating facts about peonies. Learn where peonies originated, their medicinal benefits and the range of peony varieties available today and don't worry about the ants!

peony range from sophie allport

  1. Peonies have a long history in China… Peonies are native to the eastern part of China – they’re the country’s national flower and have been cultivated there since at least 1000 BC. They first made their way to Europe in the 19th century when many new varieties were bred in France by famous breeders like Monsieur Lemoine.
  2. …and in Great Britain. At home, the Victorian nurseryman James Kelway, founder of the renowned Kelways nursery in Somerset, developed thousands of new peonies too. In June, trains on route to Penzance from London would make a special stop so that passengers could alight and take in the sight and scents of his ‘Peony Valley’.
  3. There are two main kinds of peony you can grow… Despite their name, tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa) are really deciduous shrubs and bear huge flamboyant flowers, sometimes the size of dinner plates. They’re long-lived but benefit from having some of their oldest woody stems pruned out every year so new ones are continually produced. Herbaceous peonies (Paeonia lactiflora) die back below ground every winter, but their vibrant crimson shoots emerge anew each spring. These are the peonies that make such gorgeous cut flowers, with blowsy, silk-petalled flowers in white, shades of pink, coral and crimson. Peony facts
  4. ... as well as the exciting ‘intersectionals’ A third group of peonies are known as ‘intersectional’ and are a hybrid between the tree and herbaceous peonies: they have the mounded shape of herbaceous peonies but produce woodier stems and larger flowers in an exciting colour range. They’re often called Itoh hybrids, after Toichi Itoh, the Japanese botanist who first successfully hybridised the two species. Sadly, Itoh died before his successful crosses flowered, so he never saw the results. A brand new intersectional peony, ‘All That Jazz’, is being launched by Primrose Hall Peonies at the Chelsea Flower Show in May this year. Apricot-peach with raspberry flecks, Primrose Hall’s owner Alec White has high hopes for it in the coveted Chelsea Plant of the Year competition.  Facts about peony flowers
  5. There’s a peony for every spot in the garden… Tree peonies fare best in dappled or full shade, while herbaceous peonies love to be grown in a sunny position. Both kinds will grow in most soils as long as it is not too wet over winter. Dig in some soil-improving organic matter such as compost before planting and scatter a handful of bonemeal into the planting hole.

  6. …but they need careful planting. Peonies are easy to grow, but planting depth is crucial. Herbaceous peonies mustn’t be planted too deeply or they can fail to flower. The crown of the plant should not be more than 5cm below the surface of the soil. Conversely, tree peonies should be planted with their graft union buried well below soil level (at least 8cm) to encourage lots of shoots from the base. 

  7. You can enjoy peony flowers for months. Peonies are known for having a fleeting season, but choose wisely and you could have peonies in flower for months. A different species, the lemon yellow flowered Paeonia mlokosewitschii (also known as ‘Molly the witch’) starts to flower in April. Of the herbaceous peonies, the widely grown, deep crimson ‘Rubra Plena’ is one of the earliest to flower in May. Later flowering varieties such as ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ will often keep going until the end of June. peony from sophie allport

  8. They make gorgeous cut flowers. Romantic and opulent, peonies look beautiful in a vase, and they last well once cut. If you want to grow your own, bear in mind that plants need to be at least three years old if they’re to produce enough flowers to spare some stems for cutting. Cut them just as those plump, round buds are starting to open and they’ll unfurl fully in the vase. Peony specialist Claire Austin recommends ‘Coral Charm’, ‘Myrtle Gentry’ and ‘Better Times’ for a long vase life. peony from sophie allport

  9. They’re not just for the garden. Peonies have a long history in traditional Chinese medicine, and they are still grown there commercially for their roots, which are used to treat inflammation. Our name for them stems from Paeon, physician to the gods in Greek mythology, whose name, in turn, comes from the ancient Greek for ‘healing’. Their petals are also edible – add them to a salad or crystallise them with sugar to create the prettiest cake decorations.

    Cut flower peonies
  10. Don’t worry about the ants. Peony species with single flowers will attract bees and other pollinating insects so they’re a beneficial addition in a wildlife-friendly garden. But many gardeners notice they also seem to attract another less welcome form of wildlife: ants. The green outer petals that protect peony flowers while they are in bud ooze nectar. Foraging ants soon discover it and will feast on the nectar until the flower has gone over, but do no harm to the bloom or plant. There’s no need to spray, which could inadvertently harm other beneficial insects.

10 Facts About Peonies

We hope you've enjoyed reading our peony facts. Let us know your favourite peony flower. We'd love to hear your peony insights and stories.


  • My daughter has a beautiful but simple peony plant. the flower is red with a single petal layer and yellow center. What is so interesting is every night the petals close and as they do it fills with bees who sleep the night away, in the morning they fly away to come back at night. The flowers last approx 2-3 weeks and is amazing to watch.

    Jenny on

  • I’ve had a peony for about 30 years. In a pot. Moved it to the garden for a year or so when it looked dead. Put it back in the pot. It looks magnificent each year with healthy leaves but it’s never flowered. Do you think it ever will. I’ve tried the two methods of shallower and deeper planting. Refresh the compost each year. Would appreciate any suggestions to achieve some beautiful flowers.

    Kim Townson on

  • Thankyou for the information, l didn’t know you could eat the petals, l adore them, yes they are such a romantic flower. I added to my collection the beautiful Bowl of Beauty and Laura’s (my daughters name) Dessert, hopefully will bloom more flowers this year.

    Karen on

  • Wow !!!. I had no idea about the benefits of the roots on inflammation. As a suffer of Rheumatoid arthritis I found it very interesting. Also didn’t know you could eat the petals. Knew you could Rose. violets etc. I absolutely love Peonys so romantic as are Roses and lavender.

    Barbara on

  • It’s said you shouldn’t disturb peonies once planted. I had a plant in a big pot on my patio, which had flowered previously but failed two years ago. We moved house, a week before lockdown, and I thought I’d just put them in my new cottage border. I’d forgotten about them, as they’d died back. Guess what, up they’ve come this spring and I have eight buds on a very healthy plant.

    Margaret on

  • Thank you for the interesting facts. I love peonies as they remind me of my beloved grandmother. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the hybrid version.

    Lesley Houghton on

  • Love all peonies, but my favourite herbaceous is Bowl of Beauty

    SusanCh on

  • Peonies are one of my favourite flowers and I am waiting for my new garden to be planted so I can at last enjoy a peony of my own, however, I have been told that once planted they do not like to be moved, is this correct?

    Dawn Clapham on

  • Avid peony lover thank you for the read good to know facts. I have several varieties in my garden but favourite is bowl of plenty always cut and enjoy indoors 🌸

    Mrs Linda Turner on

  • Good to know about the ants!

    Dawn OSBORNE on

  • I learnt so much! Especially about the flower’s history with China; fascinating. Peonies are the most impressive flower, I look forward to this time of year especially!

    Georgina on

  • I absolutely love Peonies, for my wedding I had a full bouquet of very light pink Peonies with lightest pink and cream roses and they were stunning!! The groomsmen had a single Peony with foliage and my bridesmaids had a much smaller bunch similar to mine. Our wedding anniversary is the only time I am lucky enough to have a bouquet of Peonies, sadly they have never been up to scratch so I am hoping my husband orders from Bloom and Wild this year.

    Tara on

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