Name: Paeonia suffruticosa, aka the tree peony. Although it’s not an official horticultural class, I’d put these in the OMG group.
Type of Plant: This peony is a shrub not a perennial that dies to the ground. It is native to China and has flowers that usually grow 6 to 12 inches in diameter, often much larger than the normal garden peony blooms. Tree peonies grow best in full sun and rich soil, and are generally hardy in Zone 3 – 9.
Why I Love This: There are hundreds of cultivars, mostly originating in China, and when they are in bloom you can’t help but love them. Huge flowers with clear colors and ruffled petals…they are almost too good to be true. Given the growing conditions they prefer these outrageous peonies are also easy to grow.
A Word to the Wise: Despite their common name, these aren’t trees but they do grow to be the size of small to medium sized shrubs. These plants mingle well with most perennials but don’t crowd them in with other shrubs and trees. Since they don’t die to the ground you shouldn’t cut them down much…wait until new growth appears in the spring and at that point remove any dieback that happened over the winter. Although the various cultivars are usually grafted onto another tree peonie’s root stock, the plants are normally planted by putting that graft below the surface of the soil.
Know too that the flowers are huge and beautiful but not too long lasting…it’s not a plant for someone who wants their shrubs and perennials to bloom most of the summer. It is a plant for those who are willing to hold a party during the short time when a special plant is in flower, however. If you’re willing to celebrate, and perhaps leave space around the tree peony for some fantastic long flowering annuals that will become the life of the party after the peony is done, this is the plant for you.