June plant of the month

Heavenly bowls of beauty, these blowsy flowers are early summer show stoppers

Paeonia 'Coral Sunset'During late May and throughout June, herbaceous peonies are a dazzling garden feature. With a range of bright colours, from shiny white, through yellow, orange, pink to dark red, they sing out in the borders. To make things even better, some of them have the most incredible scent. Absolutely gorgeous!

Why specify “herbaceous”? Well, this group of plants die back completely over winter and re-emerge in spring. The alternative are the tree peonies, which have a permanent, woody framework.

Paeonia lactiflora 'Gay Paree'In May and June, the round buds emerge above divided leaves, which are glossy green and sometimes with a reddish or purplish hue.

The flowers open in various forms: single, semi-double, double and anemone-form (also known as imperial or Japanese), so there’s something to suit most tastes. They vary in height between 60cm–1.4m (2-4ft) and depending on the cultivar, a little support may be helpful.  

They’re increasingly popular as cut flowers, with the double-flowered ones lasting up to two weeks. You might find a few ants (but these are not harmful) but generally speaking, a sunny spot in free-draining soil is ideal for most peonies.

Peonies on trial

At Wisley, we’ve a real treat for anyone who loves these plants, or wants to find out more about what’s on offer. We’re conducting trials, with 130+ on Seven Acres and 180+ on the Trials Field. The sight and scent is wonderful! There are plenty of hybrids and cultivars, many with Paeonia lactiflora as a parent, plus some Itoh hybrids that are crosses of herbaceous and tree peonies. Come and see them this month and see if you can find a favourite.

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.