Tree peonies highly regarded

Tree peony Souvenir de Maxime Cornu. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
Tree peony Souvenir de Maxime Cornu. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
There is nothing ordinary about the tree peony. Known as mudan in its native China, its medicinal use dates back more than 2000 years. The naming of the genus Paeonia originates from Ancient Greek mythology, after Paean, the physician of the gods. Although peony was initially revered for its healing properties, the beauty of the flowers soon became the most popular reason for growing them.

Tree peonies have a woody structure which becomes deciduous in autumn. Below ground one of the reasons for the success of this hardy plant is the tuber it grows from. A tuber is a swollen underground stem, branch or root that has evolved to store food to sustain the growth of the plant. Tree peonies prefer cooler temperatures and grow quite slowly, but if grown in good, rich, well-drained soil will continue to increase in size each year.

Today, tree peony cultivars are highly regarded, quite expensive and a fine addition to any garden. Centuries of breeding and selection have resulted in a range of large exotic flowers. They are winter-hardy and come in a wide range of colours — white, yellow, red, all shades of purple, and pink.

The well-named classy tree peony Black Panther has flowers of the darkest blackish red. In contrast, the flowers of Souvenir de Maxime Cornu are big and blowsy. These huge fully double flowers age from an intense salmon orange to a strong yellow.

In the lower garden there are many more tree peonies growing and flowering in the camellia collection borders.

Garden Life is produced by Dunedin Botanic Garden.

For further information contact Marianne Groothuis.