Few plants can surpass Peonies for their sumptuous beauty. From late May till the end of June, a selection of different cultivars brings glamour to our gardens - and as I see their bursting buds in the garden I’m inspired to write this column.

There’s an almost limitless number of peony varieties. Herbaceous peonies are a great choice for many of our borders. Colours range from the sparkling silvery yellow single flowers of Paeonia ‘Claire de Lune, the only successful cross of lactiflora x mlokosewitschi to the captivatingly fulsome deep red double blooms of ‘Henry Bockstoce’.

A taller tree peony, like P. delavayi with small dark maroon flowers, or its yellow version lutea, gives structure to a larger bed.

A third group, intersectional cultivars, was developed in Japan in the 1940s combining the benefits of the other two groups. As Scotland’s leading peony expert, Billy Carruthers of Binny Plants tells me, these intersectional cultivars are becoming increasingly popular.

Billy finds it hard to choose a favourite intersectional but singles out Paeonia ‘Scarlet Heaven’. This superb peony has huge, slightly scented single crimson flowers. A vigorous grower, it also has excellent autumn colour. And ‘Julia Rose’ stands out as well. Its single to semi double deep pink flowers fade to soft gold and finally cream.


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Binny’s nursery garden at Uphall, West Lothian displays 300 different Paeonia varieties. And with many in bloom over the next 2 or 3 weeks, do plan a visit and get all the advice you’ll need for planting and aftercare.

Peonies are a long term investment, as Billy points out, a tree peony could live for a hundred years.

Peonies occur naturally in mountainous regions from China to Morocco, and have been used in China for thousands of years for their perceived medicinal properties. But it’s scarcely surprising that such gorgeous plants have also adorned our gardens.

The species Paeonia officinalis has been grown in European gardens since at least the 15th Century and has graced Scottish ones for well over 300 years.

Peonies can withstand temperatures as low as -25C but like many other plants, they can’t tolerate wet ground. So when deciding where to plant a new peony, select a moist, but very free-draining place. And for best flowering, a sunny site is preferable.

The soil should also be quite fertile but I have to confess a couple of mine have thrived astonishingly well in pretty poor, but very free-draining, ground for many years. Willing plants sometimes break the rules.

If buying peonies, go for a bare-rooted one that can be planted in late autumn. Binny’s have bare-rooted ones from September, and also offer container-grown plants in spring.

When planting bare rooted peonies, you may find the soil can be pretty foul by late October - early November, so I’d recommend getting the ground ready well before then and keeping a bag or bucket of friable soil to hand.

Planting peonies is quite straightforward. Dig a 30cm deep hole, adding in slow-release fertiliser like bonemeal, and good compost. It’s important to get the planting depth right to be sure of good flowering.

An established plant’s foliage naturally dies back in autumn, but at the same time new stems also start to form. Buds or eyes emerge on the root immediately below the surface and will sprout into life the following spring.

Make sure you plant an herbaceous peony between 2.5 and 5cm. Intersectionals can be fractionally deeper, say 6-8cm with tree peonies at around 10 -15cm. If you have bought a grafted tree peony, ensure the join is well below the surface as buds grow on the stem above the graft. Mulching is good, but keep away from the stem to avoid inadvertently burying it too deeply.

The Herald: Iris ‘Feu du Ciel’Iris ‘Feu du Ciel’ (Image: free)

Plant of the week

Iris ‘Feu du Ciel’ is a tall bearded iris flowering in mid June. The slightly ruffled flowers have apricot standards and paler, almost yellow falls. The beards are bright orange.

The rhizomes of bearded irises need to be in the sun; I find it easiest to grow them at the front of a border, even though they are tall and may need staking. This way I can prevent their neighbours overshadowing them and when, not in flower, their narrow, upright leaves allow me to easily see through them to other plants that are flowering further back.