Most rural properties have peony bushes and the owners of these properties eagerly look forward to peony season every year. Nothing can match the wonderful sight and perfume of the bright-red, pink and white blooms. These can be enjoyed in the outdoor garden to their full potential if the plants have been staked so that the heavy blooms don’t bend over or collapse to the ground under their own weight.
Besides enjoying in the outdoors, the blooms are excellent cut flowers. Various styles of floral arrangements can be created using just peony blooms alone or by combining them with other flowers and foliage. A large vase, filled with about a dozen big peony blooms is absolutely lovely. Be sure to add some stems of peony foliage and add three or four white blooms to the pinks and reds to provide contrast. If you want to be really creative, try a Biedermeier arrangement, which involves placing blooms in either concentric circles or a spiral, often with no accompanying foliage, into a shallow dish. Peony blooms are ideal for this type of arrangement because they are so full that they create a solid dome of bloom with no spaces in between. Each ring can be different — either in co-ordinating or contrasting colours. The arrangement can be quite small, perhaps to be used as a table centre, by using smaller blooms or ones that are not fully open, or a larger one to fit a large-scale area could be made if you have lots of flowers.
Before arranging the blooms, cut the stems on a slant with a sharp knife so that the stems are not crushed as they might be if cut with scissors; a crushed stem will impede the uptake of water and the bloom will soon wilt. Making the cuts on a slant exposes more of the stem end to the water, again facilitating its ability to take up water.
Peonies can be combined with other flowers to create interesting floral designs. Several peony blooms could be combined with a few stems of sweet William. They both have blooms that are in the same colour family so co-ordinate well — the red sweet Williams are the exact shade of the peonies, and the pinks match as well, creating lovely monochromatic designs. Contrasting foliage from other plants can be used to add a bit of interest. Striped ribbon grass and wide, sword-shaped iris leaves are good examples. Also, early-blooming delphiniums — especially if they are dark blue — will make a lovely contrast to the peony blossoms.
If you need several table centres for a special occasion, an easy, yet classy choice is to use rosebowls with one peony bloom in each bowl. I often put some coloured marbles in the bottom of the bowls but you could also use foliage like tansy leaves or scented geranium foliage on different occasions. The foliage gives a nice base and obscures the bare stem of the peony bloom. When using peonies in this way, choose immature blooms that are not fully open, as they become somewhat less attractive as they age. Try to stand the bloom upright in the rosebowl so that the table centre is equally attractive on all sides and cut the stem quite short.
Table centres could also be composed of three- or five-bud vases, each with a peony in it, perhaps displayed on a long narrow tray or doily. Again, choose blooms that are not quite fully open. Scatter a few peony petals on the tray or doily if the event is not a long one; if these petals are left too long they will wilt and become less than attractive. Using coloured marbles or shiny stones would work as well to complete the design if you don’t want to risk the petals deteriorating. Attractive designs are possible using single blooms of peonies with some foliage — or use one bloom and one bud — preferably showing colour.
During this year’s peony season, use the blooms of these wonderful plants to create floral designs for your own enjoyment or for special occasions. If you are not interested in flower arranging, then continue to enjoy peonies in your garden at every opportunity; the season goes by quickly and we must enjoy it while it lasts.
Albert Parsons writes from Minnedosa, Manitoba.