Peony: “The King of Flowers”

Peonies are beautiful, fragrant flowers to which a ton of fascinating history and symbolism is attached. They are among the pricier flowers that you can buy — both as tubers and from florists, but they’re fairly easy to grow and with a life expectancy of up to 100 years, these perennials are well worth the investment.

With their incredible longevity, it’s no wonder that peonies symbolize everlasting love (okay, romance in general), among several other things: prosperity, good fortune, and compassion, to name a few.

There are a few myths about the origin of their name and what peonies symbolize. The first says that they are named for Paeon, a student of the Greek god of medicine, Asclepius, whose talent surpassed that of his teacher. Aesculapius became jealous and tried to kill Paeon, so Pluto (or Zeus, depending on your source) saved him by turning him into a peony. According to this myth, the peony symbolizes compassion.

In another myth, the flower gets its name from a nymph named Paeonia, who becomes bashful after Aphrodite catches her flirting with Apollo. Aphrodite punishes Paeonia by turning her into a red peony, which comes to symbolize bashfulness and shame.

Peonies were the official national flower of China until 1929. Under the reign of the Sui Dynasty, from 581 to 618 A.D., peonies were featured prominently throughout the palace, including on the royal throne itself. There, the “king of flowers” is thought to signify nobility, honor, and wealth.

More recently, peonies have become popular in wedding bouquets, as symbols of happy, peaceful marriage, purity, love, and lifelong commitment.

Peonies typically bloom from spring through summer, though it’s possible to find varieties that bloom earlier or later than others, allowing you to stretch peony season at your home. The best time to plant them is in the fall, at least six weeks before the ground freezes. These deer-resistant lookers do well between hardiness zones 3 and 8 (Eugene’s zone), as long as they’ve got full sun and well-drained soil. They are relatively drought-resistant, but like to be watered occasionally. Potted peonies need to be watered more often: every few days during warm weather. Get detailed instructions for planting peonies here. 

Tips for Growing Peonies:

  • Choose your planting location wisely; peonies don’t like to be moved or divided.
  • After you dig a hole to plant your peonies, add compost and organic fertilizer before setting the tuber in place and recovering it. Good soil and a smart location will keep your peonies happy for years — often with very little additional effort on your part. But...
  • Don’t forget to deadhead.
  • If you’re growing a variety of peony with heavy blooms, a preemptive support structure can help reduce sagging and broken stems.
  • Make sure not to plant peonies too deep, or they won’t bloom. The roots should be beneath just two inches of soil.
  • Don’t expect blooms for a few years. Peonies need to mature before they start showing off.