seduction: a gardener succumbs
If I were a proper Victorian gardener I would blush with shame. Shame at how I have succumbed to seduction. Seduction by the lush, the fragrant, the I-want-to-dive-in-and-bury-myself-in-its-petals...the peony!
I'm not a fan of the merely pretty flower. I need more: multiple seasons of interest, tasty fruit, edible foliage. When we moved into our house in PA the first things I dug up and gave away were four peonies. The idea of an old-fashioned, traditional flower didn't appeal to me. No, I wasn't high, I'd simply never grown peonies before. Never sunk my nose deep into the the silky softness of the too-numerous-to-count petals. Never lost myself inside the corolla, pushing deeper into the center of the bloom to brush against the velvety yellow stamens. To truly appreciate this flower, you've got to give yourself over completely.
Sure, I could tell you Paeonia hybrids are sun-loving perennials, hardy to Zone 3. They grow to be approximately 3 feet wide and 2.5' tall. Leaves are alternate, sometimes lobed, with elliptical to lanceolate leaflets. Peony flowers are 3-6" wide, in shades of red, pink, and white. They may be single or double and are always fragrant. They grow best in well-drained, fertile soil and flower most proliferously in full sun. (Even in partial sun you'll get several worthwhile blooms.) Peonies make an excellent cut flower. They should be divided in late summer, making sure to plant the crown 1" below the soil surface.
That's the run-down I give my students in Spring Perennials at the NYBG. But what does it REALLY tell you? Does it tell you even the back of the flower is beautiful? Does it tell you you can lose yourself in the abundant layers of each individual bloom? Does it tell you once you've grown a peony you can never be without them?
There are certain things you can only learn through experience, and peony appreciation is one of those things. I urge you to give in. You're going to thank me.