THE TREE PEONY - Paeonia suffruticosa

THE TREE PEONY - Paeonia suffruticosa

The tree peony - Paeonia suffruticosa is an absolute darling of the spring garden. Rare to find and expensive to buy the tree peony has been in cultivation for many thousands of years. The large blousy flowers are particularly attractive and are borne high on the new season's growth at a time when most camellias would have finished. This almost always makes them the prime show in the garden. The flowers can be any size between 6 and 12 inches wide and they come in a range of colours from white to maroon depending on the variety.

Tree peony illustration
Also known as the Moutan Peony, Paeonia suffruticosa is a deciduous branching shrub that can reach up to 2 metres in height and spread.

The tree peony is a native of China and Tibet, and has possessed significant cultural meaning throughout Chinese history. Wild plants do still exist but because they been coveted for such a long time its origins are now unclear.

It was first introduced to the western world by Henry Charles Andrews in 1804. Andrews was an English botanist and botanical artist, and since his discovery almost 600 cultivars have been recorded.

Tree peonies will do best when planted in well-drained, humus-rich soil with plenty of organic matter or well-rotted compost mixed in. The plant itself will grow well in both full sun and dappled shade, but the flowers will perform best in dappled shade. If you are growing grown in full sun, it is important to provide plenty of water otherwise the flowers can dry off. If it is possible choose a site that is shaded from early morning sun.

They are exceptionally hardy and will emerge undamaged even after the harshest winter. However if cold weather returns in the spring any new growth will be susceptible to damage from night frosts. A screen of sacking cloth can be used to protect the new growth during periods of frost, but can easily be removed during the warmth of the day. Once the new growth has hardened off the screen can be removed until the following year.

Mulch annually with a well-rotted farm-manure in the spring and water freely over the summer. Avoid disturbing the root system once planted and deadhead the flowers as they fade.

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