Wednesday June 10 2020
Peonies (paeonia) are native to Asia, Southern Europe and Western North America, the number of species estimated range from 25 to 40. Most are herbaceous perennial plants but some have a woody structure and can grow up to 10 feet tall. The peony is among the longest-cultivated flowers in Eastern culture, and understandably so as they exhibit huge glamorous flowers, often with beautiful scent and attractive deeply cut foliage.
Despite having a short flowering season, they create a welcome spectacle in late spring / early summer. Here at The Red House we are lucky to have several prize specimens:
Paeonia mascula (sub species mascula) is one of the most striking of the true species, producing superb, pink to deepest rose flowers which appear on erect stalks above unusual, broadly divided, light green leaves which are narrow and hairy underneath. This rare subspecies originates from Eastern Europe and Turkey.
The peony is named after Paeon (also spelled Paean), a student of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and healing. Asclepius became jealous of his pupil, Zeus intervened and saved Paeon from the wrath of Asclepius, by turning him into the peony flower. Peonies have qualities other than their aesthetic beauty. Over 262 chemical compounds e.g. flavonoids, tannins, phenols have been identified and these are used frequently within traditional medicines of Korea, China and Japan.
Paeonia ludlowii, (nestled at the foot of a large laurel, by the south side of the croquet lawn) is a medium high, deciduous shrub which is endemic to southeast Tibet. In Tibet it is known as lumaidao meaning ‘God’s flower’. The vernacular name in China is 大花黄牡丹 meaning ‘big yellow-flowered peony’.
‘Duchesse de Nemours’ is a cultivated variety, a classic, double-flowered peony from the mid-nineteenth century. It has large, bowl-shaped pure white, fragrant, double flowers, flushed green in bud, from early to midsummer. And it clearly enjoys being centre stage next to Britten’s Composition Studio filling the terrace with its alluring scent.