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Old-Fashioned Peony Plants

Updated on June 9, 2015
Paeonia lactiflora 'Coral Sunset'
Paeonia lactiflora 'Coral Sunset' | Source
Better Homes and Gardens' editors picked the old-fashioned standard Krinkled White peony as one of their favorite fuss-free plants.
Better Homes and Gardens' editors picked the old-fashioned standard Krinkled White peony as one of their favorite fuss-free plants. | Source

There's something excessive about the beauty of traditional herbaceous peonies. Perhaps it's their dense foliage that emerges glossy and green each spring. More likely it's their flowers. Full and fluffy, peony blossoms are sometimes so big they must be staked.

The fragrance of old-fashioned peonies is exceptional, too--sweeter and lighter than honeysuckle but just as seductive, particularly on warm nights.

Old-Fashioned Peonies

Paeonia lactiflora cultivar 'Monsieur Jules Elie'
Paeonia lactiflora cultivar 'Monsieur Jules Elie' | Source

Grow your grandmother's peonies.

Paeonia lactiflora, the standard herbaceous perennial peony many of us remember from childhood, has long been a staple in gardens. If your grandmother grew peonies, they were probably standards.

Standards have soft stems that die to the ground in fall and return in spring, their reddish stalks looking like little horns as they poke through warm earth. In May, standard peonies erupt in lush beauty, producing fragrant flowers until June.

'Gay Paree'
'Gay Paree' | Source

Although cultivars vary, most standard peonies are hardy in Zones 3-8.* They perform well in full sun or partial shade and prefer well-drained soil.

Place herbaceous peonies near entrances so that you can enjoy their scent. Grown singly or as hedges, they add beauty to any landscape.

Bombs & Doubles

Two types of perennial herbaceous peonies traditionally popular in the U.S are the bomb and double varieties.

Bomb peonies have large, flat bottom petals called guards which are topped by a fluffy snowball of petals. Two popular varieties include Laura Dessert, which is white with a touch of lemon yellow, and Raspberry Sundae, a mix of white, yellow and pink.

'Festiva maxima' is my all-time favorite.
'Festiva maxima' is my all-time favorite. | Source

Double peonies are also a favorite of gardeners, producing fluffy masses of fragrant blossoms. Old-fashioned varieties include Festiva Maxima which has snow-white flowers flecked with red; Sarah Bernhardt, a fragrant pink beauty; and the classic double red Karl Rosenfield.

Semi-Double Peonies

'Edulis superba'
'Edulis superba' | Source

Semi-Double Peony Plants

Semi-double peonies have flat guard petals surmounted by a cluster of shorter, more upright petals.

The semi-double Edulis Superba, pictured above, is popular cultivar. It produces fragrant blooms with matching guards and centers in a lovely, deep pink.

Japanese Standard Peonies

Bowl of Beauty is a large, fragrant Japanese herbaceous perennial peony.
Bowl of Beauty is a large, fragrant Japanese herbaceous perennial peony. | Source

Japanese Standard Peony Plants

Japanese standard peonies have centers that contrast in color with their guard petals. Not to be confused with the many Japanese hybrids available today, Japanese standards are just like other herbaceous perennials in that they disappear when the weather turns cold and emerge in early spring when the ground warms.

Bowl of Beauty, above, was first introduced in the 1940s and quickly became a favorite of many gardeners.

Not only are its flowers, with their pink guards and fluffy white centers, particularly beautiful, but Bowl of Beauty is also extremely fragrant. Its deep green leaves form a relatively large, compact shrub.

Single-Petal Peonies

Single-petal standard peonies produce large, flat flowers with yellow centers.

Varieties like 'Krinkled White' can produce blooms as big as dinner plates.

'Tom Eckhardt' is a single-petal perennial peony that's easy to grow and gorgeous.

Hot pink and extremely fragrant, 'Tom Eckhardt' will form a lovely hedge for a cottage garden when planted in a row.

*Find your hardiness zone.

To find out which growing zone you live in, visit for links to hardiness zone maps in Australia, Canada, China, Europe, New Zealand, North America, South America and the U.S.


About the Author

The Dirt Farmer has been an active gardener for over 30 years.

She first began gardening as a child alongside her grandfather on her parents' farm.

Today, The Dirt Farmer gardens at home, volunteers at community gardens and continues to learn about gardening through the MD Master Gardener program.


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    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 4 years ago from United States

      You're not alone, Nolimits Nana! Peonies really are lush and gorgeous.

    • Nolimits Nana profile image

      Nicolette Goff 4 years ago from British Columbia

      Not only beautiful, but often with a heady romantic scent. My favorite flower!

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 5 years ago from America

      I love peonies and have lots of them. I try to add a new color each year. I have a couple that are single-petal. Enjoyed your hub voted up ...

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 5 years ago from United States

      Hey grandmapearl! I love lilacs too--and, of course, peonies. Was just reading last night about a new red peony that rivals Karl Rosenfield. Thanks for sharing the hub & for voting. Glad you stopped by!

    • grandmapearl profile image

      Connie Smith 5 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      Next to lilacs, peonies have to be my all-time favorite flower. I think because they remind me of my grandmother's and mother's gardens. I have a few planted in the only sunny spot I have. It is nice to know that they will work in partial shade as well. Thank you for all this great information on a subject near and dear to my heart! Voted Up, Useful, Beautiful, Interesting, Shared, Pinned and Now Following! PHEW!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 5 years ago from United States

      Hi rebeccamealey! I love the double peonies like Festiva Maxima. A lot of people do stake them to keep their big fluffy heads from flopping over. Maybe your neighbors will divide their peonies & give you a few starters! Have a good one, The Dirt Farmer

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 5 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      I too, love peonies. My neighbor had some gorgeous ones this past May. I can see how you would mention that some need to be staked! I must grow some peonies next year!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 5 years ago from United States

      Hey Peggy W. Wish there was a super heat-tolerant peony hybrid just right for Houston! Having lived in Dallas for a time, I'm familiar with some of the challenges of gardening in TX. You deserve lots of praise for your beautiful flowers! Happy gardening, Jill

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Wish that they grew down here in Houston. They probably need that resting stage in winter that they would not get down here. I loved growing peonies when we lived in Wisconsin. They are gorgeous! An older lady friend shared some from her garden with us. Thanks for bringing back these memories. Voted up and beautiful.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 6 years ago from United States

      Hey Mellie. B of B grows in zones 2 or 3 through 8 so you might get it to grow if you babied it. It really is gorgeous, isn't it. Thanks for reading--and for the vote!

    • Miss Mellie profile image

      M.S. Ross 6 years ago

      The Bowl of Beauty peonie almost looks like two completely different flowers fused together. What rich, gorgeous color! And the contrasting textures are so interesting! I've always adored peonies, but have never seen any like this one. Beautiful and up.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 6 years ago from United States

      I do too, Foodstuff. Even crawling with ants they're gorgeous. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Foodstuff profile image

      Foodstuff 6 years ago from Australia

      I adore peonies. They are just the most incredible flowers! Both tree and herbaceous types.

    • dearabbysmom profile image

      dearabbysmom 6 years ago from Indiana

      Gorgeous! My favorite photo of my grandmother is one of her as a young girl, probably junior high age. She is dressed up with her hair curled, and in her lap is large bouquet of peonies. They are "my grandmother's peonies" in more ways than one! Thank you for the momories.