Native to Asia, western North America, and southern Europe peonies belong to the genus Paeonia, in the flowering plant family Paeoniaceae. They are herbaceous perennials with over 40 species, which include some woody shrubs and trees as well. These plants are long-lived and bear long-lasting blooms.
They have a long history and have been in cultivated in China for over a thousand years. Known for their light scent and large blossoms, peonies make beautiful garden flowers and equally attractive cut flowers. With a wide number of attractive varieties, one can have lots of color and beauty added to their landscape.
Peonies have been associated with symbolism and meaning from ancient times. They were regarded as the symbol of well-being, wealth, elegance, luck, and happiness. They have an important place in the Greek mythology. They are believed to be named after a physician to the gods, Paeon, who received this flower on Mount Olympus from Apollo's mother. However, another legend says that Paeon was saved from the fate of dying by being turned into the flower, the peony. In the language of flowers, this one means shame or bashfulness, as mischievous nymphs were said to hide in its petals.
Peonies have been attributed with other meanings too. It is the floral symbol of China. Further, it is the state flower of Indiana since 1957, replacing the zinnia, which was the state flower since 1931. Its lush growth marks riches, honor, prosperity, good fortune, and a happy marriage and flourishing romance for the married. For many, inking peony tattoos is the way to make its meaning a part of their lifestyle.
Peonies can be propagated through division of clumps, softwood cuttings, or through seeds. But the division of clumps or through roots is considered as the best option. Peonies are suited for both ground and container gardening. They like rich, well drained soil and plenty of organic compost. Compost must be added while preparing the soil for planting peony. A single medium-sized pot can hold one plant, therefore, plant one clump per pot. However, for flower beds keep plants around 30 inches apart, with roots or clumps planted 'eye' side up, 1 - 2 inches deep. After planting the clumps, mount the soil lightly and water the clumps. Make a berm around it, to ensure water does not run out. Never pour water directly over the clumps.
Peony plants can grow anywhere from two to four feet, while the tree type variety may grow up to seven feet. Peonies are fast growers, and do not like to be moved around or replanted. They flower in the spring to late fall season. Although this is only when they reach their full height which happens within a couple of years of their planting. Putting a fertilizer high in phosphorous two weeks prior to blooming will help in bloom longevity as well as enhancement of its quality.
Peony plants have a dense growth, which needs to be trimmed to facilitate air and light movement. As the plant gets bigger and blooms larger, ensure that support is provided to the plant, else it may fall to the ground. Ants are the only problem these plants face, but as they do not cause much damage, avoid the use of pesticides on them. Enjoy its flowers and bring their freshness home as part of your flower arrangements.