An Abiding Passion for Peonies

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Oh, my aching muscles...

By Carol Adelman

Peonies have always been in my heart. When I was small I lived in Salem, Oregon, across the street from Rev. Henry Hartwig. As documented in Irene Nehrling’s book, Peonies Outdoors and In, he grew over 300 varieties of tree and bush peonies. As an adult, I was inspired to grow the luminous, multicolored peonies of my childhood and share their beauty with others.

Growing Great Peonies

Peonies prefer cold winters, and can grow in the same place for 50 years with little care. They need six hours of sun and well-drained soil to bloom and thrive. Prepare the planting area by loosening the soil in an area two feet wide and deep; then level the soil surface. For bare-root divisions that are planted in the fall, lay the root on top of the level ground and pull soil up over it, covering the growing “eyes” with two inches of soil. By pulling surrounding soil up over the root, you form a trough around the root where excess water can drain.

Peonies transplanted from pots should be positioned at the same level as the soil in the pot, but can be slightly raised from the existing soil. Planting peonies too deep is a common, critical mistake that prevents them from blooming. Amend loosened clay soil with one cup of dolomite lime and one-eighth cup of bulb fertilizer or bone meal to adjust the soil pH and provide minerals that peonies require.

Choosing the Perfect Peony 

There is a huge range of peony flower colors, so base your decision on your favorite color or your garden’s color scheme; then choose the plant form you prefer. Most people are familiar with herbaceous (bush) peonies and tree peonies, but a group of peonies known as intersectional peonies are gaining popularity. They are a cross between a tree peony and a bush peony. Intersectionals were developed by Mr. Tochi Itoh in Japan, and first bloomed in 1959. Intersectional peonies have the beautiful leaf of the tree peony parent and make a nice rounded bush that holds its flowers up nicely. Flower colors are available in yellow, lavender, red, apricot, watermelon, and salmon.

Carol Adelman is on the Board of Directors of the American Peony Society and owns Adelman Peony Gardens, 5690 Brooklake Rd. NE, Salem, OR 97305; phone 503-393-6185. For additional information, visit



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