Images: Peonies. Check out the bright pink one with the big yellow center. There's a little bee so loaded with pollen, it may never be able to take off in flight. Bless these little insects for their busy work.
Peony plants were cultivated in Asia over 2,500 years ago and can successfully survive in our gardens for longer than we will be around to tabulate.
I moved a huge amount to my present house from other old plants. I always believe and tell you, "shared plants thrive the best!"
I have herbaceous or garden perennial peonies (Paeonia lactiflora and its hybrids). I don't have any of the tree peonies. Flower types are: Single, Japanese, Anemone, Semi-double, and Double. There are hundreds of cultivars, including early and late blooming. Some have a heavenly fragrance especially when brought into the home.
Peonies should be planted in a place that will be permanent - they do not like to be moved. They are almost perfect once you meet the initial requirements for planting. Here are some tips:
Buy only top sized high quality plants or if a gift or divided, a clump at least the size of your fist. Smaller and it will take literally years before they will have a bloom and more years before they will be a bush.
Plant in full sun, with good air circulation, in good clay loam with good drainage, and not where peonies have been previously planted. October is the best time to plant or divide. Other times will work if kept watered and tended but may cause a longer wait.
The upper most buds (eyes) should not be covered with soil more than 2 inches or you will never have blooms. This is extremely important.
Dividing is difficult because the mass is extremely heavy. You can lift only a portion without disturbing the entire plant. It will normally take 2-3 years for a new plant to become established enough to produce normal flowers.
You may mulch around plants for weed control but do not make the soil mound more than 2 inches over the crowns.
It is suggested you remove all flower buds the first year they produce to let all the plant's energy go to establishing a root system. It takes someone more disciplined than me to do this.
If you want huge blooms, leave only the large terminal bud on each stem.
Picking flowers does NOT harm the plant, but removing leaves does. Cut the flower stems short, leaving at least two leaves per stem on the plant.
After several years, you may fertilize immediately after flowering with a 10-10-10 scratched into the soil surface annually. Do not dig anything deep into the area around the plant.
Peonies become dormant in late September or early October. You may cut (never pull) the stems as close to the soil level as possible (without injuring the crowns) if you like a clean winter garden. It is said it will help prevent insect and disease damage but I've never had any of those problems with my peonies.
The ant issue: Ants like the nectar that forms on the buds of the peonies. They do no harm to the plant. Legend says the ants help the petals open. My advice is do not plant peonies close to your foundation and there will be no ant issue. I hold the cut flower down and shake before bringing into my house.
Support for the bush may be needed if your variety has huge flowers. There are "peony supports" for sale or you may use homemade. Tomato supports and bamboo sticks and string are two options. If it rains hard on the open flowers, they will probably flop. I always think of it as an excuse to cut a huge bouquet.
A bouquet of peonies lends a wonderfully fragrant rather ancient feeling to a home. Colors from white to red and all shades in between. There are new corals and yellows and, of course, the tree peonies. The foliage is glossy dark green and some new varieties have dark red and variegated.
I appreciate the ancient flower for the beauty, ease of care, and longevity. How many of us can say we continue to look that good and be that productive when we're one-hundred years old?