#MyrtleMondays: All About Peonies

This is a post whose time is well overdue! How could I wait so long to feature the namesake of one of our most important characters in the Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries? I don’t have a good answer, save that cats are inscrutable. Well, scrutinize we shall—today #MyrtleMondays is all about peonies.

Observing carefully to make sure I get everything right… (Peony from Cold-Blooded Myrtle)

Native to China, where they’ve been cultivated for medicinal properties and ornamental value for thousands of years, varieties of peonies were imported to Europe sometime in the Middle Ages. It’s impossible to pinpoint the arrival of the peony in England, but we know botanist Sir Joseph Banks had tree peonies (paeonia suffruticosa) installed in Kew Gardens in 1789.

Botanical illustration of a tree peony by English artist Augusta Innes Withers, 1857

Eduoard Manet Peonies, 1864.  Manet grew his own peonies, featured in his artwork, as well as…

…that of fellow artists. Frederic Bazille painted this “flower seller” (really a model) in 1870, featuring peonies grown by Manet.

Peonies swiftly became favorites of artists and gardeners alike, including famed 19th century garden designer Gertrude Jekyll.

Double Peonies in a Shallow Grass Basket, Jekyll 1886

In addition to her garden designs, Jekyll is known for her still-life floral photographs, including these peonies.

Henry Dreer first began selling flowers to Philadelphia customers in the 1830s. This late 19th century catalogue features Dreer’s Anniversary Collection of Fragrant Peonies

Peonies became popular all across England and North America, despite their brief blooming period (only 7-10 days in late spring). On the upside, a single peony plant can live as long as 100 years, and they can be reproduced from cuttings from mature plants.

Peonies growing in our garden, the young offspring of…

My mother-in-law’s peonies, grown in turn from her mother’s plant. These peonies are in their third generation!

Peonies grow best where there are cold-hot seasonal shifts. They’re not in bloom at the moment, of course, but fall is the best time to plant them in most zones in the US and England. So you have just about a month to find a spot for your peonies! In addition to growing new plants from cuttings, you can harvest their seeds (also done in fall).

There are dozens of varieties of peonies, but there’s only one Peony. You can catch her next adventure, In Myrtle Peril, October 4 (find her on the cover, below!).