Peonies are one of Mother Nature's loveliest oxymorons—they're fragrant and delicate yet tough as nails. When you plant one of these spring-blooming shrubs on your property, you should know that it has an excellent chance of outliving you. From elegant single-petaled varieties to exuberant "bomb" forms, discover the different varieties to grace your spring garden.
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Bowl of Beauty Peony
Many peonies are guilty of letting their showy blooms flop in the mud after a downpour, but not so with 'Bowl of Beauty.' This anemone form of peony holds its single-petaled blooms aloft on strong stems, while the white filaments of the stamens appear as narrow petals, providing additional texture for bouquets.
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Cardinal Vaughan Peony
In contrast to herbaceous peonies, which die back to the ground in the winter, tree peonies maintain their woody stems throughout the seasons, providing structure and texture in cold months. The rich magenta purple is a standout in the early spring garden, and plants will mature to an impressive seven feet over an eight-year period.
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The fully double flowers of 'Joker' peonies almost resemble giant carnations due to their attractive picotee edging. Add a companion planting of foxgloves and dianthus to achieve the perfect British garden design. Like all peonies, 'Joker' needs a full day of sun—at least six hours—to be at its blooming best.Continue to 5 of 15 below.
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Miss America Peony
'Miss America' may exhibit a hint of blush on early spring buds, but petals unfurl in pure snow white. This gold medal-winning heavy bloomer is also exceptionally cold hardy, bouncing back from zone 2 winters with no problems. Test your soil when planting peonies and adjust the pH as needed to hit that sweet spot between 6.0 and 7.0 to keep these plants healthy.
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Fairy Princess Peony
The satiny red petals of 'Fairy Princess' contrast beautifully with conspicuous yellow flares on this herbaceous peony. Topping out at a mere 20 inches in height, 'Fairy Princess' deserves a premium spot on the edge of your spring border. A rich, loamy soil will help this peony be its most productive self.
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Pink Hawaiian Coral Peony
What a glorious way to celebrate spring. The sunrise hues of 'Pink Hawaiian Coral' helped it to earn the 2000 American Peony Society gold medal. Fast-growing and easy to grow, the plants benefit from grow-through supports to keep their heavy blossoms out of the mud after a rain.
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Buckeye Belle Peony
Although introduced in 1956, 'Buckeye Belle' has just recently climbed in popularity in peony circles, claiming the 2010 American Peony Society gold medal and 2011 Peony of the Year award. Lustrous garnet petals are interspersed with gold anthers, which look stunning planted next to yellow columbines or tulips.Continue to 9 of 15 below.
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Prairie Charm Peony
In performing your due diligence before investing in a long-lived landscape plant like the peony, it never hurts to put some award-winners on your shortlist. In doing so, you might discover the Kansas City Itoh hybrid 'Prairie Charm,' which won the Award of Landscape Merit in 2009. This lightly fragrant midseason selection will grow about 30 inches tall in your zone 4 and warmer garden, producing semi-double pale yellow blossoms with red flares at the petal base. Out of bloom, the upright form and deeply divided leaves add interesting texture to the border.
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First Arrival Peony
As its name suggests, 'First Arrival' blooms earlier in the season than most of the intersectional peonies in its class. The sturdy stems of this Itoh peony will hold flowers fresh and aloft for two to four weeks, barring any storms or hot spells. 'First Arrival' is the perfect shade of pink to complement your spring cottage garden, but give this shrub its own space where it won't have to compete for nutrients.
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Charlie's White Peony
Row after row of crepe-like petals on 'Charlie's White' beg to be touched. This 3-foot variety is widely available and affordable, so plant several to ensure a bounty of neutral white blooms for all your bouquets. Cut 'Charlie's White' blooms just as the buds begin to unfurl for your spring flower arrangements.
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Jean Ericksen Peony
A prolific bloomer, 'Jean Ericksen' makes a bold focal point in the midseason spring garden. The feathery deep red petaloids in the center of the flower take up the bulk of the flower's mass and make it a beacon to the season's first hummingbirds.Continue to 13 of 15 below.
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A luscious lemon hue on an extremely vigorous plant helped 'Bartzella' receive the 2006 American Peony Society gold medal. Gardeners impatient for young peony bushes to reveal their promise should take note of the fast growth of Bartzella, which may produce 20 or more 6- to 8-inch flowers in its second year of growth.
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Raspberry Sundae Peony
A celebration of exuberant femininity, the Chinese lactiflora 'Raspberry Sundae' has been gracing gardens since 1968. Don't let the festive pink bomb fool you; this plant is notoriously hardy and has even been known to survive in zone 2 gardens. Many creamy flares enhance the fullness of this flower. Just one cut bloom can be the star of your spring flower arrangement—and will add fragrance, too.