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

Order NOW for delivery this coming 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/$462/$88.503/$125.504/$1625/$198
DUCHESSE DE NEMOURS, 1851        New
Its rich fragrance and exquisite beauty have made this French icon a favorite for over 150 years. Opening as “creamy chalices” (Harding, 1917) with a golden glow inside, its abundant flowers develop into perfect white cumulus clouds. RHS AGM winner, strong stems, 3-5 eye roots, 34-38”, mid-season, zones 3a-7b(8bWC), from Iowa. We offer a rotating selection of peonies, and though we offered this treasure in 2013, it won’t be available in 2014.
EARLY SCOUT, 1952        New
Lacy-leafed, just two feet tall, very early blooming, and winner of both the APS Gold Medal and Award of Landscape Merit, this is a very special peony. Its striking foliage and early bloom — 2-3 weeks before most peonies — come from P. tenuifolia, the fern-leaf peony. It never needs staking, increases vigorously, and blooms profusely. 3-5 eye roots, 20-24”, zones 3a-7b(8bWC), from Illinois. We offer a rotating selection of peonies, and though we offered this treasure in 2013, it won’t be available in 2014.
FESTIVA MAXIMA, 1851
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/$15.502/$303/$42.505/$66.5010/$12425/$279
HERMIONE, 1932        New
One of the most fragrant peonies of all, this hard-to-find beauty by the great Hans Sass of Nebraska is a lovely, soft, apple-blossom pink. Cut when the buds are in the “soft marshmallow” stage — just before they start to open — and your house will be filled with fragrance for a week or more. 3-5 eye roots, 36-38”, mid-late season, zones 3a-7b(8bWC), from Iowa. We offer a rotating selection of peonies, and though we offered this treasure in 2013, it won’t be available in 2014.
MRS. FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, 1932
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/$16.502/$31.503/$455/$7110/$13225/$297
PHILIPPE RIVOIRE, 1911
Although fragrant red peonies are hard to find, this rose-scented legend is “positively sweet-smelling” (Harding, 1923). On wiry stems, its satiny, deep crimson flowers are just the right size for gardens and bouquets. Free flowering, 3-5 eye roots, 30-32”, early-mid, zones 3a-8a(8bWC), from Iowa. Although we hope to offer this rarity again in 2014, availability can’t be confirmed until June. Please check back then or subscribe to our email newsletter.

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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