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Plants I Love: peony

Years ago, on one of our early Jacaranda Cruises, a woman presented me with a cardboard toilet roll.

I was a bit surprised until I saw the round pink bud inside.

It was a single long stem of the‘Sarah Bernhardt’ peony. Over the next two weeks I was captivated as the bud gradually opened to a multitude of pink petals and a boss of golden stamens. I’ve been mad for peonies ever since and have admired them in peak perfection in gardens in England, Canada, USA and France, as well as in cool climate gardens in Australia.


Photo - Makoto Honda/


There are three types of peony: herbaceous peonies, which die back each year after flowering, then reshoot each spring; tree peonies, which are deciduous woody shrubs; and Itoh peonies that are a cross between the two. All three prefer a cold climate. Tree peonies are more reliable in milder areas than herbaceous types, though still need a few days of six degrees or less to initiate flowering.

Despite this general advice, there are gardeners who have success in less-than-cold climates. Dominic Wong, who grows peonies to perfection at his garden Chinoiserie, in Mittagong, NSW, says they can be grown in climates as warm as Sydney.



Katerina Sideridis proves him right. She has been growing herbaceous and tree peonies in her Hurlstone Park garden for 22 years. They are planted beneath a persimmon tree where they receive morning sunshine only, and in summer the blooms are protected under a cotton sheet. She feeds them with well-decayed horse manure and mushroom compost, placed around the plants in early spring before they shoot, and has had such success over the years that the tubers have spread two metres from the mother plant.


If you’re keen to try, these are Dominic’s tip tips:


  • The ideal position is morning sun, though they can withstand full sun. They need some sun to flower well.

  • Choose a well-drained spot and prepare the soil by digging in an 8-inch pot full of garden lime and another full of Dynamic Lifter.

  • Plant herbaceous peonies almost at the surface to get maximum winter chill, and plant tree peonies a little deeper to encourage suckering - more suckers equals more flowers.

  • Feed twice a year (Melbourne Cup Day and Anzac Day are good reminders) with a handful each of Sudden Impact for Roses, blood & bone and potash.

  • In mild areas, apply the ‘ice’ treatment: in the coldest winter month place a bag of ice on top of the tuber for at least ten consecutive nights to initiate flowering.

  • For long-lasting blooms protect them from rain and hot sun with parasols or umbrellas.



Where to buy

Chinoiserie sells all three types of peony when the garden is open or by appointment. The peonies in the garden are best seen mid-October to mid-November.

23 Webb St, Mittagong NSW.

Also try Drewitts Bulbs and Van Dieman Quality Bulbs for peony tubers.


About this article

Author: Sandra Ross