Garden Photo of the Day

Peonies in Japan

Fabulous flowers at a Zen temple

Today Joan K. is taking us on a trip to Kyoto, Japan.

I noticed the recent postings about peonies, so I was inspired to send these photos.

In late April I was in Kyoto, Japan, and visited the Kennin-ji temple. Kennin-ji was the first Zen temple in Kyoto. The four sides of one of the temple buildings were surrounded by the most amazing peonies in full bloom. As a bonus, the temple also has a beautiful dry Zen garden. This is not one of the most famous temples in Kyoto, but it was very near where we stayed; the peonies made it well worth a visit.

Peonies in full bloom. These are tree peonies, which have woody stems, grow into small shrubs, and bloom earlier than their herbaceous counterparts. Though generally tree peonies are better at holding themselves up than herbaceous peonies, the huge flowers can droop under their own weight. These have been carefully supported using green stakes that blend into the foliage.

Tree peonies are called botan in Japanese and mudan Chinese (written 牡丹 in both languages). Tree peonies have been cultivated in China since at least 500 BC and were introduced into Japan in the eighth century by Buddhist monks. Kyoto became a center for their cultivation, propagation, and breeding.

Tree peonies around the walls of the Zen Buddhist temple. Peonies are a particularly appropriate plant for a Zen temple because one of the key teachings of Buddhism is impermanence—that nothing lasts forever, so live in and enjoy each moment. Peonies are great symbols of this, as their incredibly beautiful flowers all too quickly shatter and fade, so we have to enjoy them in the precious moment when they are flowering.

Detail of a lovely striped peony in front of the simple beauty of the Zen temple behind it.

A tsukubai, or ritual hand-washing basin, at the temple. Visitors to the temple rinse their hands before entering to signify purifying themselves for the experience.

A Zen gravel garden, a space of beauty and for calm meditation.

What a beautiful space.


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View Comments


  1. nwphillygardener 06/06/2019

    So beautiful!
    Here in the US, Swarthmore College's Scott Arboretum has a rather impressive tree peony collection that blooms in late April into May. Because of the variation in bloom time, there is an opportunity to plan a visit with some reasonable expectation of seeing some of these fleeting blooms.
    It appears they've discovered that Spanish bluebells are a great companion since they seem to bloom at the same time and their color seems to enhance the color of all the peonies.

    1. darylsavage 06/09/2019

      Wow, that does sound like a stellar combo.

  2. User avater
    treasuresmom 06/06/2019

    Oh, my, those peonies are gorgeous! I love that tsukubai as well.

  3. carolineyoungwilliams 06/06/2019

    Thank you Joan for sharing such beauty/information. I absolutely love Peonies. This is just what I needed to lift my spirits on this rainy day.

  4. btucker9675 06/06/2019

    Thank you for these great photos and the information - like a mini vacation right here at my desk!

  5. User avater
    simplesue 06/06/2019

    I enjoyed that tour of peonies and zen gardens! Beautiful!

  6. Musette1 06/06/2019

    gorgeous peonies in a glorious space. That striped peony is amazing! Thank you for sharing this beauty with us!

  7. darylsavage 06/09/2019


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