Woodland Peonies, a walk on the wild side

Forty or fifty years ago, the owner of our house planted a LOT of peonies, and by the time we got the place they were huge. Also, in many cases, overtaken by shrubbery.

When we dug the shaded ones to move them we found huge giant knotted rootballs the size of refrigerators. So we divided them and had even more peonies. Three kinds of peonies: dark red, pink and white. (Read more about them – and get some growing tips here)

Theoretically you can’t have too many peonies but I’m here to tell you you can have enough – if they are all the same damn 3 colors. And having a few extra early ones that are magenta does not help, on account of their being magenta.

But we also inherited some fern leaf peonies (read about them – and the lowdown on ants – here) and the fern leafs, more properly Paeonia tenuifolia, were so beautiful and so different they opened an irresistible door.

At least that was my excuse 3 years ago, when I bought a nifty woodland peony at Trade Secrets.


Japanese Woodland Peony, P. japonica. At the time it had I think 4 leaves and zero flowers. It would be nice if this one also developed refrigerator sized roots, but it won’t. As soon as they’re bigger than produce drawers I’m going to divide them.


Those shirred silk petals really knock me out, and the foliage is nothing to sneeze at, either.

Lulled into hubris by this success, I thought last year I could get away with buying a moderately expensive seedling of P. mlokosewitschii, instead of a seriously expensive guaranteed division. The guarantee was that the flower would be pale yellow, a rare color in peonies.

And nonexistent in my plant. I was warned the seedling might turn out to be magenta and you can guess the rest. Bill thinks it’s beautiful. I do not. But the leaves are absolutely gorgeous and the flower is fleeting, so it’s not a total catastrophe.


Seedling of P. mlokosewitschii. The cheapskate’s reward. There is a better picture of a magenta flowered seedling – and one of the real deal – over at my almost neighbor Margaret Roach’s blog, A Way To Garden. But as you can see by comparing the pictures there is a lurking mystery; her seedling’s leaves look so different I’m not sure we have the same plant. (She got hers from Seneca Hill. I got mine from Hillside Nursery.

Next time I head for the hills I’ll pay full freight, though I may have to hock my toes to do it. There are around 2 dozen species peonies that could grow here, and more and more of them are making their way ( expensively) into commerce.

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6 Comments »

  • I am blaming this all on sex: peony sex. I think these plants all just have sex all the time when we’re not out there watching, and this is what results.
    Now being the freak I am I just went out in the pouring rain after seeing your post and cut off a branch of my similar-but-different plant and brought it in to the computer (not wanting to bring the computer out in the rain, you see). The verdict: Except that mine is suffused w/more red, it’s very similar.
    If we introduced them and they fell in love, who knows what we’d get next generation?
    P.S., I will be working the booth of Loomis Creek Nursery tomorrow at Trade Secrets so do say hello if you are there!

  • leslie Said,

    Hi Margaret

    It would sure be a poorer world if plant sex didn’t produce all these interesting bastards. It was that notable red suffusion that made me think the plants might be different, but now that I think about it more the difference between your leaves and mine is certainly smaller than the difference between magenta and primrose!

    Hope to see you tomorrow in what I hope isn’t still the pouring rain.

  • Robin Said,

    Once the garden is planted (before the successions start!) and the seedling house is empty and the barn has new siding and…. ok, well, soon… I need to turn over a long strip of the lawn for peonies. Two plants are filling my craving. They are beautiful, aren’t they.

  • Robin Said,

    Oh gees, two plants are *not* filling the craving.

  • leslie Said,

    Hi Robin

    I should think not – two are 2 better than none but multiplying by 10 (or 100) sounds about right to me.

    Hope you do get a chance to prepare a peony bed… why not try ordering now for fall delivery, to be sure of getting the beauties so often in short supply? Knowing they’re on their way is bound to be a powerful incentive to get out there and get digging.

  • ilana Said,

    Hi Leslie -

    So I have this gorgeous tree peony that I picked up an IES plant sale when they still had them (the sales, and the peonies). It was a stunner this year, but a large branch broke off, both old wood and new. Do you know any way to propagate tree peonies from cuttings?

    Thanks – and I hope Trade Secrets this year was amazing and inspiring.

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