Continuing a thread on flowering plants that don’t thrive where I live now (in Palo Alto CA) but do thrive where I lived before (in Columbus OH); the key is needing cold winters, with at least some freezing.

Earlier (6/20/13)I posted about lilac (Syringa) — for which the so-called (unrelated but physically somewhat similar) “California lilac” (Ceonothus) can stand in:

they are both ornamental flowering shrubs, and Ceonothus can fill much the same function in landscape gardening in Mediterranean or semi-tropical climates as Syringa, most species of which thrive only in places with decidedly chilly winters.

Then more recently (4/24/14) I took up forsythia:

We don’t see much forsythia in these parts, because they require a winter freeze to flourish. They do grow in California and elsewhere in the West, but only in areas with cold winters; the Sunset New Western Garden Book enumerates these.

Now it’s peonies.

The crucial fact, from the Sunset New Western Garden Book:

Paeonia. Herbaceous peonies. Bloom well only where they experience a period of pronounced winter chill.

Some basic information, including the etymology of the name, from Wikipedia:

The peony is a flowering plant in the genus Paeonia, the only genus in the family Paeoniaceae. They are native to Asia, Southern Europe and Western North America.

… Most are herbaceous perennial plants 0.5–1.5 metres (1.6–4.9 ft) tall, but some resemble trees 1.5–3 metres (4.9–9.8 ft) tall.

… The peony is named after Paeon (also spelled Paean), a student of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and healing. Asclepius became jealous of his pupil; Zeus saved Paeon from the wrath of Asclepius by turning him into the peony flower.

… The peony is among the longest-used flowers in Eastern culture and is one of the smallest living creature national emblems in China. Along with the plum blossom, it is a traditional floral symbol of China, where the Paeonia suffruticosa is called 牡丹 (mǔdān).

The Columbus garden had three different types of peony — two that came with the property, a third that Jacques and I added.

The first is Paeonia lactifolia, a staple of gardens in the Northeast and Midwest, the plant that most gardeners there think of simply as “peonies”. It’s one of the drama queens of the flower world in these parts — big blowsy flowers mostly in the color range from white through pink and light purple to red (similar in some ways to the showier roses). Here’s a fairly modest number (the culivar ‘Bowl of Beauty’), a bicolor:


Second, the fern-leaved peony, Paeonia tenuifolia. The flowers are single, the leaves are deeply incised (like ferns), and the flowers are typically deep red, as here:


A delightful plant.

Finally, tree peonies, which are deciduous shrubs rather than herbaceous plants. This is the Paeonia suffruticosa mentioned above:


From Sunset:

Slow growth to 3-5 ft. tall and eventually as wide, with handsome, blue-green to bronzy green, divided leaves.

… These peonies seldom show their full potential until they have spent several years in your garden, but the spectacular results are worth the wait.

Possibly Jacques’s favorite plant, after roses. He introduced me to tree peonies, to my great pleasure. We had a particularly beautiful yellow one.


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