Look up any article about peonies (Paeonia spp.) and you are very likely to see phrases like “outrageously beautiful,” “drop-dead gorgeous” or “one of the glories of spring.” To me, peonies are truly heavenly, as if angels came to earth as flowers.
Every year I splurge on a small bouquet of these magnificent flowers, buying them in tight buds to enjoy them longer. And splurge is the word, since even six flowers sets me back quite a bit in San Francisco. Why don’t I just start growing peonies? It’s a matter of hardiness zones.
Outrageously Beautiful Peonies
Anyone who loves flowers must recognize the special status of peonies. Writer Henry Mitchell called them the “most scrumptious of all flowers, a rare fusion of fluff and majesty.” No matter what variety of peonies you come across, you can absolutely get drunk from their beauty.
And what fabulous plants to have in your garden. Peonies are perennials, meaning that they return every spring to make you remember how to gasp in wonder. They will probably do the same thing to your kids and maybe their kids, since some have bloomed for more than 100 springs.
Varieties of Peonies
Peonies make me think of that line from a Shakespeare play describing Cleopatra: “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety.” There are so many varieties of peonies – anemone, single, Japanese, semi-double, double and bomb – each more spectacular than the last.
The colors range from crimson to softest pastel pink, from buttery yellow to purest white, copper or vibrant pink. The blooms may be fist size or big as your head. Some have delicious fragrances, intoxicatingly sweet, rose-like scents, while others have none at all. All boast lively foliage, a shiny clump of handsome green leaves that last the length of the summer, then put on their own fall show, turning purple or red or gold in autumn.
Peonies start blooming in springtime, but some varieties flower later in spring or even early in summer. They thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 8. That means almost any cooler climate will do.
Ah, therein lies the rub. San Francisco is zone 10, well above the upper range of temperatures for peonies. So instead of planting these exceptional perennials, I am reduced to writing articles about how much I would like to. And, of course, buying a bouquet every spring.