Gardening Magazine

Flowers On Sunday – Cutting Garden Peonies

By Julie King

Welcome to F’lowers On Sunday’ in what has been a landmark week for my Cutting Garden. This is the first time I have had peonies to cut from my cutting beds!

I started planning the Kitchen Garden in 2010, envisaging an area where I could grow fruit, flowers, herbs and vegetables in their own dedicated spaces. Initially I concentrated on establishing the vegetable and fruit beds and then in 2011 the flower beds were cut out of the grass field.

I first came across a dedicated peony bed during a visit to the old victorian kitchen garden at Audley End House. I was so inspired that I set out to create my own peony beds in the Kitchen Garden. I currently have two long narrow beds, each containing a double row of peonies. The first peonies were planted in the spring of 2012 and finally this year I have an abundance of beautiful buds. I am adding to the beds each spring and gradually filling up the space.

Peony Bed

The peony season is only just beginning. It is very early this year as I would normally not expect peony flowers until June. With the opening of the first buds torrential rain has arrived, so yesterday found me out in that rain cutting the heads off the few peonies that have already opened up. Heavy rain is the enemy for peony flowers and the best course of action is to cut the flowers quickly to enjoy in the house before too much damage is done.

Peony Posy

Peonies are very easy to arrange – in fact just putting the freshly cut stems in a suitable container is really all that is needed. These flowers are so beautiful that they require no extra primping to show them at their best.

Peony Red Charm

Today my jug contains a few blooms of peony Red Charm –  a stunning red double with a large doomed inner flower -

Peony Sarah Bernhardt

and peony Sarah Bernhardt –  a beautiful pale pink double. Sarah Bernhardt is one of the best known and widely available peonies – she blooms on long stems so is ideal for a Cutting Garden.

Peony Sarah Bernhardt

Peonies are very easy to grow. They flower briefly in the early summer, but add beautiful foliage to a flower border all through the gardening season. I order my new peonies in the winter and they arrive in the post in early spring as bare root tubers which I plant straight out into the garden. The key with peonies is not too plant them too deeply – just an inch or two under the surface of the soil. Deep planting will result in lots of foliage but very few flowers. Peonies are not fussy about soil type and will grow in sun or part shade. Full sun produces the most flowers, but the flowers of peonies growing in a shady position will last longer.

After planting the tubers I leave them to it. It will take a year or two before they start to flower, but the beautiful foliage will appear in the first spring. It is important to leave the foliage standing for as long as possible as this will feed the tuber. I have read reports that suggest cutting peony foliage to the ground after flowering, but I think this would be disastrous to future flowering. I remove the collapsing foliage in late autumn, but try to leave a few stems on each plant throughout the winter so that I can see where they are. The new shoots form from red ‘eyes’ that barely show above soil level in the early spring, so it is very easy to damage them when weeding – the old stems are my guide to look out for the new eyes.

Looking after my peonies is very straightforward – when I am feeding my roses in early spring I add a handful of rose food to the base of each peony. Support is also essential – in my herbaceous borders I have started to invest in metal peony supports which I leave around the plants all year. These are proving invaluable for supporting the tall flower stems which otherwise tend to collapse over my other plants. In the Cutting Beds I use wooden posts and string to create a framework for the plants to grow through.

In summary all a peony needs to look beautiful is a handful of rose food in spring and some good support – other than that just leave them to it and you will be rewarded with increasing numbers of beautiful flowers every year. Peonies have a reputation of being hard to move or split. My experience in my previous garden was that mature tubers could be split or moved easily as long as they were replanted quickly and at the same level as the original plant. You would expect to lose the flowers for the first year after moving (although this was not always the case), but after that flowering should resume quickly.

Peony Red Charm

From an arranging point of view I have one main tip – cut your peonies just as the bulbs start to pop and let the flowers open inside. Ants love peonies and fully open flowers can contain a lot of ants as I was reminded yesterday when I brought these flowers in from the rain.


One of the joys of having a large blank space for a garden is the freedom to plant in quantity and I have certainly been planting quantities of peonies for the last few years. In my herbaceous borders I have color co ordinated the peonies with my planting schemes. I also have a large border in the front garden that is devoted to peonies and bearded iris – peonies seem to be rabbit and deer proof. In the Cutting Garden I have chosen a selection of early, mid and late flowering varieties to prolong the very short season. As my many peonies mature I hope to have beautiful flowers popping out all over my garden for a few magical weeks in the early summer!

You will probably have guessed from the name of my blog that peonies are something of an obsession for me. I will be indulging this obsession for the few brief weeks of the peony season, so expect lots of peonies pictures whilst they last!

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