Old House Gardens
From America’s Expert Source for Heirloom Flower Bulbs

Price freeze! Order NOW for delivery this fall at LAST fall’s prices.

WHY GROW PEONIES? They’re old-fashioned, easy to grow, offer armloads of flowers, and can live a century or more.

PEONY HISTORY – As Alice Coats wrote, “The long roots of the peony strike deep into the past.” Learn more.

TIPS FOR SUCCESS – Give them full sun and a little patience as they settle in and peonies will reward you for decades. Learn more.

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PEONY PARADISE        Web-Only & Sampler
For a lifetime of luxurious beauty, plant our easy heirloom peonies this fall. We’ll send you 3 of our favorite old-fashioned doubles — 1 pink, 1 white, and 1 rose-red, all labeled and superb. Give them a sunny spot and they’ll reward you with abundant blooms for a century or more — and they make great cut flowers! For zones 3a-7b(8bWC) only, please.

For 2, 3, or more of each variety, order additional samplers.

COF90Add to basket:1/$48.502/$933/$1334/$1715/$209
This hard-to-find French beauty produces masses of blush-to-white flowers highlighted by bits of crimson and a ring of yellow stamens that inspired its name, Gold Crown. “What ‘Festiva Maxima’ is to the early” season, connoisseur William Upjohn wrote in the 1920s, ‘Couronne d’Or’ is to the late” — high praise indeed! Strong stems, 28-32”, zones 3a-7b(8bWC), 3-5 eyes, from Iowa. We offer a rotating selection of peonies. ‘Couronne d’Or’ won’t be available in 2015, but we’ll post our new offerings here in June and announce them in our email newsletter.
This richly fragrant, deep pink relic is one of the oldest peonies of all, and yet, writes expert Martin Page, it’s “still one of the best.” Introduced in France soon after the first lactiflora peonies arrived from China, it has been cherished ever since (even in the South) for its “large size, good form, strong color, and delightful fragrance” (Boyd, 1928). 36-38”, early-mid, zones 3a-8a(9aWC), 3-5 eyes, from Iowa. We offer a rotating selection of peonies. ‘Edulis Superba’ won’t be available in 2015, but we’ll post our new offerings here in June and announce them in our email newsletter.
Winner of the APS Gold Medal — the peony world’s highest honor — this Nebraska-bred classic offers armloads of BIG, rose-like blooms of palest pink (especially in cool weather) maturing to white. Its sturdy stems and compact form make it an excellent garden plant, and its late bloom and gentle fragrance make it a favorite for weddings. 26-30”, zones 3a-7b(8bWC), 3-5 eyes, from Iowa. We offer a rotating selection of peonies. ‘Elsa Sass’ won’t be available in 2015, but we’ll post our new offerings here in June and announce them in our email newsletter.
P. tenuifolia ‘Rubra Plena’, FERN-LEAF PEONY, 1765
This exquisite jewel, brought into gardens from the wilds of Ukraine, holds its small, bright red flowers above mounds of finely cut foliage. Less than two feet tall and blooming weeks before most peonies, it was listed by Philadelphia nurseryman Bernard McMahon in 1806, carried west by the pioneers, and blooms today in abandoned cemeteries throughout the Great Plains. Requires well-drained soil and full sun, 14-22”, zones 3a-7a(8aWC), 3-5 eyes, from Manitoba. We offer a rotating selection of peonies. Fern-leaf peony won’t be available in 2015, but we’ll post our new offerings here in June and announce them in our email newsletter.
FESTIVA MAXIMA, 1851        Web-Only
The most famous peony of all, ‘Festiva Maxima’ has been a standard of excellence since Hovey’s of Boston first offered it in the US in 1852. Its big, sparkling white flowers are highlighted by a few dribbles of crimson, its stems are strong, and it blooms reliably even in the South. 3-5 eye roots, 36”, zones 3a-8a(8bWC), from Iowa. Chart to compare.
PE01Add to basket:1/$16.502/$31.503/$455/$7110/$13225/$297
Long known as the darkest peony of all, this French icon is a wine-dark maroon that looks even darker amid its pastel cousins, both in the garden and bouquets. Its glossy petals actually shimmer with black, and though its flower-form is rarely perfect, that only adds to its enduring, darkly romantic je nais se quoi. Strong stems, 32-34”, mid, zones 3a-7b(8bWC), 3-5 eyes, from Iowa. Chart to compare.
PE03Add to basket:1/$17.502/$33.503/$485/$75.5010/$14025/$315
The rich fragrance and rose-like form of ‘Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt’ make it distinct in the garden and terrific in bouquets. Opening “like a blush-pink waterlily” (Martin Page), it matures into a graceful, cupped flower of pale, silvery pink. APS Gold Medal winner, free-flowering, vigorous, 3-5 eye roots, 30-34”, mid, zones 3a-7b(8bWC), from Iowa. Chart to compare.
PE21Add to basket:1/$182/$34.503/$495/$77.5010/$14425/$324

ARE PEONIES BULBS? Not really, but in the past most bulb catalogs offered their thick, fleshy roots for fall planting, so we’re continuing that tradition.

And we love peonies! They’re old-fashioned, easy to grow, offer armloads of flowers, and can live a century or more. Ours come from a family-owned nursery in Iowa that dates back to 1887.

PEONY HISTORY – “The long roots of the peony strike deep into the past,” Alice Coats writes in Flowers and Their Histories. The Roman Pliny called them the oldest of plants, and they’ve been grown in Asian gardens for thousands of years.

The first peonies brought to America by the colonists were forms of Paeonia officinalis, a European peony with herbal uses that’s often called the “Memorial Day piney.” Chinese forms of P. lactiflora arrived in the early 1800s, causing a hubbub, and before long many new varieties were being introduced by French and then British breeders. Enthusiasm peaked in the early 20th-century when peonies were enormously popular for both garden and cut-flower use. American breeders came to the fore then, and millions of blossoms cut in the “soft marshmallow” stage were shipped to florists across the country.

TREE PEONIES – Tree peonies have a long, glorious history, too, but it’s only recently that they’ve become widely popular in the US. For now we’re going to concentrate on the preservation of historic herbaceous peonies and leave tree peonies to other expert sources.

PEONY GARDEN REVIVAL – With the help of peony and historic-plant experts from the US and Canada, the University of Michigan here in Ann Arbor has launched a major effort to revitalize its world-class collection of historic peonies and make it a model for preserving historic plants nationwide. Scott is on the Advisory Board, and we’ll keep you posted via our newsletter.

PEONY ARCHIVES – For customer tips and raves, the stories behind the flowers, links and books, history, news, and more, see our Peony Newsletter Archives.

PEONIES AS CUT FLOWERS – For tips for enjoying longer lasting bouquets without damaging your plants, see our Bulbs as Cut Flowers page.

PEONY PLANTING AND CARE – Peonies are tough, undemanding perennials that can bloom happily for a century or more with little care.

Plant in early fall. Do not delay! Since peonies are planted only 1-2 inches deep, the soil around them will freeze much earlier than it will for bulbs planted 6 inches deep. If they don’t have enough time to establish new feeder roots before the ground freezes, they will struggle and could fail altogether.

Choose a sunny to lightly shaded spot with good air circulation and plenty of room for them to grow. Because they like ample water, they do best in somewhat heavier (clay) soils and away from the roots of trees and shrubs.

Peony roots and eyes (buds) are brittle, so plant carefully. Dig a generous hole and position the rootstock so the eyes face up and are no more than 1-2 inches below the surface of the soil once it’s been filled in and firmed. Shallow is best; deep planting leads to poor or no bloom. Mark the spot with a stake or peony ring to protect it. Water deeply, and maintain even soil moisture until the ground freezes to help the plant develop as many feeder roots as possible its first fall.

To protect these delicate new roots the first winter, apply a winter mulch. After the ground freezes, mound the newly planted area with 2-4 inches of soil or 5-8 inches of a fluffy, non-matting mulch such as straw, cornstalks, peat moss, or evergreen boughs – but not leaves.

In spring, be sure to remove the mulch before top-growth begins, and be careful not to injure new sprouts. Different varieties will emerge at different times, so patience is advised. Scratch a couple of tablespoons of balanced fertilizer (10-10-10 is ideal) into the soil around the plant, outside the ring of stems, as its leaves begin to unfurl. Water throughout spring and till after bloom-time, especially the first year.

Bloom will be meager the first year as the plant pours most of its energy into establishing a strong root system. More blooms will follow the second year, and even more the third. As you cut blooms, leave as much foliage as possible to continue feeding the plant.

In the fall when the leaves begin to turn brown, cut the stems to the ground, collect all the foliage, and throw it away instead of composting it. Though peonies are generally healthy and tough, this will help prevent diseases such as botrytis blight and leaf blotch from getting a toehold or carrying over to the next season.

After the first spring, fertilize only sparingly. Peonies generally need little fertilizer and plants that are over-fertilized will not bloom well. If you do fertilize, keep it away from the crown of the plant where there are no feeder roots. Spread it instead 6-18 inches from the crown, work it into the soil, and water well.

To return to the beginning of Peonies, click here.

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