PASSION FOR PEONIES

Neill Strain Floral Couture celebrates the Peony, the King of flowers, in honour of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and in collaboration with Chelsea Fringe.

The week of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show is undoubtedly one of the most exciting of the year for all of us who love flowers.  At The Flower Lounge, we are showing our excitement with our "Belgravia in Bloom" display on our doorstep, but if you have a Passion for Peonies, there's a special treat waiting for you inside...

The Peony is as rich in its history as in its beauty.  While it is one of the most popular of all flowers, relatively few traditional varieties are regularly seen in the U.K., and yet there are dozens of varieties, hybrids, awaiting to be admired.  Neill went to Holland and made an exquisite selection to share with you at The Flower Lounge from May 19th to 31st.

A little history.... 

Native to Asia, southern Europe and western USA,  and the only genus in the Paeoniaceae family, the Peony is one of the oldest flowers in Eastern and Western culture.  Myths record that Paeon, a student of Asclepius, the Greek God of Medicine and Healing, aroused the jealousy of his master.  To save him from Asclepius' plots, Zeus transformed Paeon into a flower of beauty that equaled his intelligence.  For the Chinese, who named the Peony "the King of flowers," it is the traditional symbol of their country, representing riches and honours, and is often depicted in Chinese Art.  For the Japanese, the medicinal qualities of its roots were used for treatments of illnesses.  Throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, the seeds and petals flavoured drinks and were consumed in salads (I can imagine a Peony Champagne cocktail!)  In the USA, where Peony breeders were very active during the last century, the Peony was declared the national flower of Indiana in 1931.  Surprisingly, according to the Victorian Language of Flowers, these elegant flowers signify shame and bashfulness.  This is because they believed that mischievous nymphs were able to hide among the enormous petals.

A little botany...

As you will see at our exhibit of Peonies at The Flower Lounge, there are many different types and varieties of Peonies.

Wide range of Intersectional and Herbaceous Hybrid Peonies at The Flower Loungs. Photography: John Nassari

Wide range of Intersectional and Herbaceous Hybrid Peonies at The Flower Loungs. Photography: John Nassari

As plants, the 2 to 3 meter tall Tree Peonies, "Suffruticosa," have woody stems, small, spiky leaves and simple flowers.  The herbaceous, perennial plants, or common garden Peonies, have softer stems that die back to their underground parts in the winter.  "Lactiflora" are the Chinese-origin garden plants, such as Sarah Bernhardt and Duchesse de Nemours.  "Officinalis" are those varieties native to Europe. The cross between Herbaceous and Tree forms is called "Intersectional" or "Itoh," the latter being the name of the first Japanese breeder to successful create this cross.  The hybrids are always recognizable by their larger, smooth shaped leaves.

The flower forms vary with petal counts from just a few to extremely dense and are labelled single, semi-double (or Anemone style), double, crown and bomb-double.  Here are a few...

Peony "Garden Treasure," Intersectional variety created in 1984, semi-double.  Photography: John Nassari

Peony "Garden Treasure," Intersectional variety created in 1984, semi-double.  Photography: John Nassari

Peony "Salmon Chiffon," Herbaceous hybrid, semi-double.  Photography: John Nassari.

Peony "Salmon Chiffon," Herbaceous hybrid, semi-double.  Photography: John Nassari.

Peony "Salmon Dream," Herbaceous hybrid created in 1979, semi-double.  Photography: John Nassari

Peony "Salmon Dream," Herbaceous hybrid created in 1979, semi-double.  Photography: John Nassari

Peony "Etched Salmon," Herbaceous hybrid created in 1981, double.  Photography: John Nassari.

Peony "Etched Salmon," Herbaceous hybrid created in 1981, double.  Photography: John Nassari.

Peony "Dinner Plate," Lactiflora, bomb-double.  Photography: John Nassari.

Peony "Dinner Plate," Lactiflora, bomb-double.  Photography: John Nassari.

Peony "Pillow Talk," Herbaceous hybrid created in 1973, bomb-double.  Photography: John Nassari.

Peony "Pillow Talk," Herbaceous hybrid created in 1973, bomb-double.  Photography: John Nassari.

In the garden, the herbaceous plants prefer full sun and a heavy, clay soil - not sand.  They take a few years to establish themselves.  No flowers will appear the first year and it's better to remove the first buds the second year to reinforce growth.  In the third year, the flowers thrive and will continue for many years, even decades, to come.  Once the roots are too big, cut them into sections with a knife leaving at least three "eyes."

A little magic...

Some of the Peonies will change colour during their vase-life.  You can watch "Commander Performance" gradually turn from a deep pink to a pale cream; "Etched Salmon" will fade from a coral pink to whipped cream. 

For Neill Strain Floral Couture, Peonies offer extraordinary possibilities in design.  A sensual flower, romantic and glorious, it creates an outstanding bridal bouquet, looks spectacular simply arranged "en masse" in a vase, mixes perfectly with Roses and other large headed flowers in Hand-Ties or container arrangements.  Its richness of colour and texture is second to none, particularly the Bomb-double varieties.  Come and see for yourselves at The Flower Lounge before the 31st May.  It's a sight not to be missed...

Florally yours,

Neill xx

Peony images by John Nassari: www.johnnassari.co.uk