Peonies, or Paeonia, is a genus of perennial flowering plants from Asia, Europe, and Western North America with between 25 and 40 species. Scientists now agree the number of species is 33, but there are also about 6,500 cultivars.
Best known for their showy and fragrant flower, come in a stunning range of colors, and exceptional hardiness, and long life (can bloom for 50 years or longer!), peonies will add bright splashes of color to beds and borders.
There are two ways of dividing peonies into groups: by plant growth habit and by flower shape. Plant habit is the main system with three categories: herbaceous peonies, tree peonies, Itoh (intersectional) peonies.
There are also six cross categories based on peony flower types: single, Japanese, anemone, semi-double, bomb, and finally double flowers.
Depending on the variety and the growing conditions, different types of peony flowers will bloom at different times and last around 7-10 days.
So, whatever you want to plant them for the finest display of color and scent in a sunny flower garden or want to grow them groundcover to deter deer, the beauty of these fabulous flowers can take your breath away.
Before considering a peony, though, it’s helpful to learn about the different types of peonies and which peony flower colors, forms, and sizes are perfect for your landscape, garden, and even in containers too.
3 Main Different Types Of Peonies
Well, most specialists divide peonies into three main categories, and here how to tell them apart.
1: Herbaceous Peonies
Herbaceous peonies do not have woody parts. The word actually means “grass like”, so, they will form shrubs and grow even large, but they remain “grass like”, with no wood. They will grow renewal buds every summer from the crown (underground stems) at the base of that season’s annual shoots.
This is because the stems of the plant will die back during winter time. So, herbaceous peonies need to re-grow most of the aerial part of of their bodies year after year.
This also makes them easy to propagate, as herbaceous peonies need to keep growing new tissue all the time.
Even if they have no woody part, they are long lived perennials. In fact, some may last even more than 50 years.
They are arguably the most common type of peonies around the world, with a vast number of cultivars on offer. And here are some to show you.
2: Itoh Peonies
Itoh, or intersectional peonies are hybrids and they come from crossing herbaceous peonies with tree peonies. The name comes from Japanese horticulturalist Toichi Itoh who first crossed these two types of peonies in 1948.
Thanks to this hybridization, Itoh peonies have very strong stems, which means that you do not need to give them support and they can resist shocks or setbacks better than herbaceous peonies. This of course has made them very popular with gardeners all over the world.
In fact, the general qualities of these plants are short but robust stems, rich and lush foliage and large and showy flowers… Basically all you need to make your borders beautiful with little effort!
So, here are a few for you to get to know and maybe fall in love with.
3: Tree Peonies
The category of tree peonies is kind of self-explanatory. These are peonies that have woody parts, which means that the tissue of the branches hardens and dries up, becoming wood.
This happens in winter, when the leaves die off as the plant is deciduous. The branches, however, instead of dying back as they do in herbaceous peonies, stay alive but harden up.
Needless to say, tree peonies are perennials too. However because they can add growth year in year, unlike herbaceous peonies, they can reach bigger sizes and heights, up to 10 feet tall (3 meters).
However, “tree peony” is not fully correct for two reasons. This is the way gardeners call them, so, it is a gardening category. Botanists call them Paeonia Moutan, where “Moutan” does not stand for a species but a “section” a rare form of classification that is used to add a layer between genus and species.
This means that there are different species of tree peonies, including the popular hybrid Paeonia x suffruticosa from Asia (China in particular), Paeonia ostii and Paeonia rockii as well as many subspecies and cultivars.
What is more, tree peonies are not actually trees… No… they are woody shrubs, a bit like roses. They have wood branches but no central trunk to hold them…
In gardening they are less common than herbaceous peonies, because there are actually fewer varieties. But let’s see some stunning ones!
Peony Flower Shape Categories
For the growth habit categories we will have detailed explanations, but now you need to know what flower shapes mean. You see, within each growth habit category you can find flowers of any of the cross, flower form categories.
But you still need to understand what these six flower forms of peonies mean…
And now we are ready to look at the three main categories, one by one, and with beautiful plants as examples.
12 Colorful Peony Flower Varieties To Beautify Your Garden
Choosing the right peonies for your garden is can be tricky, as these flowers comes in a wide range of colors, forms and sizes, so to give you an idea where to start I’ve selected some of the most beautiful peonies from the three main growth habit categories, flowers shape and colors.
Here are 15 peony varieties to bring burst of color to your garden from late spring to early summer.
1. ‘Coral Supreme’ Peony (Paeonia ‘Coral Supreme’)
‘Coral Supreme’ peony is a romantic looking herbaceous peony type with large bowl shaped flowers of the most delicate pink color. It will flower early for a peony, usually starting in late spring. Each flower will last about 7 to 10 days, but the blooms will keep going till into the summer. And it is also lightly fragrant!
When the bloom is spent, its beautiful foliage will give texture to your borders or beds until the first frost. It is in fact excellent for city and cottage gardens alike, especially if you grow it in groups.
If you divide the clumps when they become very thick, you will be able to enjoy this herbaceous peony for a good 50 years!
2. ‘Coral And Gold’ Peony (Paeonia ‘Coral And Gold’)
‘Coral and Gold’ is a unique herbaceous peony variety with flowers of the brightest and richest coral color ever. And the stamens inside are bright yellow, which makes a great contrast but also a very vivid and energetic ensemble.
The flowers are bowl shaped and quite fragrant as well, and they attract lots of butterflies and other pollinators.
This is an outstanding variety of peony for herbaceous borders, but also for tall and large flower beds.
Given its very elegant flower shape and strong presence, it is suitable for informal but also formal gardens. In fact, it won the Award of Landscape Merit by the American Peony Society in 2009.
3. ‘Bride’s Dream’ Peony (Paeonia Lactiflora ‘Bride’s Dream’)
‘Bride’s Dream’ herbaceous peony is a magical example of Japanese flower peony type. The guard petals are whiter than white. They look surreal, Moon-like and very light. The petaloids in the centre of these large flowers are creamy white instead.
‘Bride’s Dream’ will bloom from late sprung to early summer with each flower head lasting between 7 and 10 days. It likes sheltered locations, away from strong winds.
This herbaceous peony has a very strong but also elegant personality. It can look magnificent on its own, or you can use it to add a touch of magic to your borders or tall beds, especially in informal gardens.
4. ‘Bowl Of Beauty’ Peony (Paeonia Lactiflora ‘Bowl Of Beauty’)
‘Bowl of Beauty’ herbaceous peony will give you huge anemone shaped flowers with a vibrant but elegant contrast.
The 8 inch wide (20 cm) blooms have outer petals of a rich and vibrant magenta pink shade. The inside petals instead are of a cream white shade when the flowers are fully open, but light yellow when half closed.
These sweet scented flowers will start late in spring and continue into the summer, each flower lasting up to 10 days. The leaves will then keep you company all the way to the first frost.
This peony is an excellent choice for herbaceous borders, large and tall flower beds or as a standalone plant, maybe in a small clump.
As it has very strong stems, it is also excellent as a cut flower. Its amazing beauty has won it the prestigious Award of Garden Merit by the Royal Horticultural Society.
5. ‘Krinkled White’ Peony (Paeonia Lactiflora ‘Krinkled White’)
‘Krinkled White’ herbaceous peony offers you a natural and innocent look with single and beautiful white flowers. The blooms may remind you a bit of dog roses, and in fact they have the same sort of look.
Even the stamens in the center are gold in color. The petals have a paper look to them, as if made of thin paper sheets.
The foliage is fairly dark, and while the flowers are not huge, they are plenty and fragrant and they attract pollinators and butterflies.
This peony would be ideal for any garden that wants a natural look, even for a temperate forest looking corner of your garden, ‘Krinkled White’ is just perfect!
For a Japanese or Asian looking garden, the quality of the petals also makes this peony quite suitable. It won the Award of Landscape Merit by the American Peony Society in 2009.
6. ‘Bowl Of Cream’ Peony (Paeonia Lactiflora ‘Bowl Of Cream’)
Meet a star of the peony world: herbaceous peony ‘Bowl of Cream’. Why? This multi award winner has massive flowers that reach 12 inches in diameter (30 cm)!
They are fully double and even resemble massive roses… The color of this peony’s flowers is cream white, and the petals are many, thick and frilled.
This makes ‘Bowl of Cream’ perfect for a lace like texture throughout, both with foliage and flowers. If you need a marvelous large flower for a traditional looking, Edwardian even kind of garden, ‘Bowl of Cream’ peony is fantastic.
It is also very suitable to natural looking borders, cottage gardens and, absolutely, it is a must have in a white garden.
7. ‘Souvenir De Maxime Cornu’ Peony (Paeonia X Lemoinei ‘Souvenir De Maxime Cornu’)
Tree peony ‘Souvenir de Maxime Cornu’ has stunning flowers with frilled petals that form large and showy cups. They have a golden orange center while the outer petals are bright yellow.
The edges, however have a purplish pink rim to them. They are semi double flowers as you can still see the carpel with the stamens at the center of the flower.
It will flower from spring to the first part of summer. The shrubs are elegant with long flowers and decorative leaves with very deep lobes, and they will stay on until the first frost comes.
This is an excellent standalone plant but also a good backdrop for large borders or in hedges.
8. Rock Peony (Paeonia Rockii)
Rock peony is a natural tree peony variety that forms beautiful shrubs with attractive single flowers. But remember that “single” for peonies means up to two rows of petals?
In fact rock peony has two rows of frilled white petals with a dark purple “stain” at the base of each petal. The stamens in the carpel are saffron yellow, so the overall effect is elegant and striking at the same time.
This is an excellent peony if you live in colder or harsher regions and you want an elegant but traditional looking garden.
This beautiful large shrub in fact is very cold hardy and also drought resistant. The reason? It comes it comes from a mountainous region of China called Gansu.
However, it may take up to 5 years before you actually see the first flowers.
9. ‘Bird Of Rimpo’ Peony (Paeonia X Suffruticosa ‘Bird Of Rimpo’)
‘Bird of Rimpo’ tree peony has beautiful burgundy purple semi double flowers with frilled petals and light yellow stamens inside. The flowers are large and showy and they will open in spring and keep blooming into early summer, on the whole for about 6 weeks.
The leaves of this peony are very light and elegant. Of a lighter color than most peonies and thinner textures, they appear frail, less fleshy but very elegant and breezy.
This is an excellent small sized shrub for a spot in your garden sheltered from the wind. It will bring depth of color and texture but also warm and passionate emotions to any garden with an informal inspiration.
10. ‘Singing In The Rain’ Peony (Paeonia ‘Singing In The Rain’)
Itoh peony ‘Singing in the Rain’ has really romantic blooms.The flowers are in fact both showy and delicate. These semi double peonies have well shaped petals of a pastel but bright salmon pink to apricot orange shade.
The blooms will come in late spring on the rich emerald green foliage of this Itoh peony and each flower will last 2 weeks, which is quite a long time for a peony, and even up to 4 weeks in fresh climates.
If course this is the perfect peony for a romantic border or tall flower bed, especially in traditional, even ancient looking and informal gardens.
11. ‘Garden Treasure’ Peony (Paeonia ‘Garden Treasure’)
‘Garden Treasure’ Itoh peony is a multi award winning variety with the brightest lemon flowers. The semi double blooms of this Itoh peony in fact have a special shade between lime yellow and pastel gold. The effect is very fresh and vibrant at the same time.
Because they come on very strong, erect and straight stems, this is a favorite cut flower for many gardeners and florists. The foliage too is very beautiful, of a deep green color and very florid indeed.
This is an excellent plant to bring life, light and vibrancy to borders or as stunning plant in a flowerbed of your garden that needs some spiking up, as it is actually quite short.
12. ‘Cora Lousie’ Peony (Paeonia ‘Cora Louise’)
Itoh peony ‘Cora Louise’ has very large, semi double flowers that will blow you away! In fact they can reach 8 inches in diameter (25 cm).
But they also have a color combination that makes them very striking. They are white, but with a flush of purple on the dark magenta side at the base of the petal.
The whole is crowned with the very bright golden yellow stamens in the carpel and the very pleasant fragrance that this flower gives off.
This is an excellent small shrub for most settings, given its stunning features. In fact it will look equally well in a cottage garden or informal one as in a formal urban garden.
The Type of Peony Right for You
So, with three main categories, six flower shapes and an infinity of colors and personalities, now you can tell the different types of peonies aside, but what is more, now you are better equipped to choose the best one for you, your family and, of course, your garden!
After many years as an academic in London, Adriano Bulla became a writer, publishing books like A History of Gardening, Organic Gardening and Elements of Garden Design; he then decided to become a gardener, following his childhood dream, and has been following his dream writing and gardening professionally in Southern Europe, where he has specialized in new and innovative organic gardening fields and techniques, like permaculture, regenerative agriculture, food forests and hydroponics.