Peonies are among people’s favorite late spring plants for a reason. Their textured, lobed foliage and large size make them stand out even without flowers. But when in bloom, there’s not much that can beat a peony for spectacular displays of large, colorful, fragrant flowers. But in learning which peony is perfect for your garden, first you need to understand the three different types.
Herbaceous peonies are the most common type of peony. Growing about 2 to 4 feet tall and wide, these perennials die to the ground every year. They prefer full sun and well-draining soil, and they bloom in mid to late spring with 6-inch-wide flowers, usually hitting their stride in May or early June. Tree peonies, on the other hand, are deciduous woody shrubs. They bloom a few weeks earlier than herbaceous peonies and prefer partial shade and well-draining soil. Their flowers are significantly larger—truly dinner-plate-size—and the plants themselves live for a very long time. Intersectional peonies, also called Itoh hybrids, are crosses between herbaceous and tree peonies and consequently share traits from each type. They usually bloom with herbaceous peonies and die back to the ground every year, but their flowers and foliage resemble those of tree peonies. Intersectional peonies can typically be grown in full sun or partial shade. Their breeding has resulted in improved growing habits over traditional herbaceous peonies, including much less of a problem with flopping flower stems.
Peonies are diverse, not only for the three different categories they fall into but also for the wide array of flower colors available. Peony flowers can be red, pink, purple, white, or yellow—pretty much any conceivable color other than orange or blue. Below are the best of the best peonies with pink, white, and yellow flowers.
The Best Pink Peonies
‘Joy of Longevity’ peony has flowers with stunning color contrast
Paeonia × suffruticosa ‘Joy of Longevity’ syn. P. × suffruticosa ‘Shimane Chojuraku’
‘Joy of Longevity’ is a tree peony with stunning color contrast in its flowers. The centers of the blooms are a deep fuchsia-pink that fades to a lighter pink around the edges of the petals. There are also dark purple flares at the base of each petal, surrounding yellow and purple centers. These blooms are semi-double and 8 to 10 inches wide, covering the plant in early June and emitting a soft, sweet fragrance. ‘Joy of Longevity’ has a compact, rounded habit and will reach 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide.
‘First Arrival’ peony has frilly, thin petals that look like they’re made out of silk
P. ‘First Arrival’
‘First Arrival’ is an intersectional peony with pink flowers that lighten over time. But the center of the flowers stays a deeper pink. The semi-double 7-inch-wide blossoms have ruffled edges and a light fragrance. This peony grows about 3 feet tall and wide and has very strong stems that won’t flop. Flowers bloom at the end of May or beginning of June.
‘Doreen’ is a peony where stamens steal the show
P. lactiflora ‘Doreen’
‘Doreen’ peony has deeply pink, fragrant flowers. But what makes its flowers unique is their large centers of frilly, yellow staminoides that look like entire flowers in and of themselves. Apart from the color contrast of yellow and pink, there’s also a pronounced textural contrast between the petals, which are as smooth as rose petals, and the stamens, which look like they’re made out of paper mache. ‘Doreen’ is a herbaceous peony that will grow about 28 inches tall.
The Best White Peonies
‘Cora Louise’ has double, cupped blooms that hide colorful interiors
P. ‘Cora Louise’
The flowers of ‘Cora Louise’ open lavender and change quickly to white. But a dark pink flare at the base of the petals remains, surrounding the yellow stamens and a pink and chartreuse stigma. This peony is an intersectional variety with 8-inch-wide flowers atop 2½-foot-tall and 3-foot-wide plants. Flowers bloom in the beginning of June.
‘Bowl of Cream’ has tree peony–size flowers on a herbaceous plant
P. lactiflora ‘Bowl of Cream’
‘Bowl of Cream’ has been an award-winner and standby classic in the peony world ever since it was introduced in 1963. It’s hard to argue with the extravagant display of the fully double, very large (10-inch-wide) white flowers. Each flower has so many petals that you can barely see their pink interiors. This herbaceous peony grows about 3 feet tall and blooms in early June.
Dark yellow contrasts with bright white in the flowers of ‘Flight of Cranes’ peony
P. × suffruticosa ‘Flight of Cranes’ syn. P. × suffruticosa ‘Shimane Renkaku’
You can’t help but think of a fried egg when looking at the flowers of ‘Flight of Cranes’ peony. Highly ruffled white petals surround dark yellow stamens. The flowers are 8 to 10 inches wide on a relatively small plant, only growing 2½ feet tall and wide. This peony blooms at the end of May.
The Best Yellow Peonies
For light yellow flowers, turn to ‘Age of Gold’
P. ‘Age of Gold’
This peony is a cross between two different types of tree peonies, P. × suffruticosa and P. delavayi var. lutea, and is thereby referred to as one of the “lutea hybrids.” It has beautiful, butter yellow petals that are offset by darker yellow centers with red highlights. The double blooms have ruffled petals. ‘Age of Gold’ will grow about 3 feet tall and blooms slightly after most other tree peonies.
‘Bartzella’ is one of the most popular intersectional peonies for good reason
‘Bartzella’ is constantly recommended as one of the top Itoh hybrids. The citrus-scented flowers are unique for their very bright, lemon-yellow coloring, with darker yellow and red centers. Flowers can reach 6 to 8 inches wide. ‘Bartzella’ grows 3 feet tall and wide and blooms in late spring. The bloom period is longer than that of many peonies due to the side buds that open up in sequence.
‘Garden Treasure’ is an award-winning Itoh hybrid with golden-yellow blooms
P. ‘Garden Treasure’, Zones 4-8
‘Garden Treasure’ is an intersectional peony that looks similar to ‘Bartzella’ at first. But its flowers tend to be more golden yellow, and the plant itself is taller, only growing 2½ feet tall and 3 feet wide. The flowers of ‘Garden Treasure’ are also more likely to be semi-double. Like ‘Bartzella’, ‘Garden Treasure’ also has a citrusy scent.
Peonies have everything a gardener could wish for: interesting foliage, beautiful flowers, and a sweet, enticing fragrance. If you’re looking for a pink, white, or yellow peony, I hope you’ll try one of these top-performing standouts.
For more information on peonies, check out:
- Let’s Argue About Plants Podcast: Perfect Peonies
- How to Divide Peonies
- How to Divide Intersectional and Tree Peonies
- Cricket Hill Garden, Thomaston, CT; 860-283-9393
- Fina Gardens, Hillsdale, WI; 612-205-3927
- Breck’s, Guilford, IN; 513-354-1511
- Solaris Farms, Reedsville, WI; 920-905-3976
- White Flower Farm, Litchfield, CT; 800-503-9624
—Diana Koehm is the assistant editor for Fine Gardening.