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Peony's Envy
Plan a Garden

Garden Planning Topics:
Please click on the links below for details on the various aspects of peony selection and garden design.
Types of Peonies Planting Locations Planting Locations Types of Peonies
The Big Picture Using Woodland Peonies Using Tree Peonies Using Herbaceous Peonies
Flower Shapes/Colors Growth Expectations Routine Maintenance Not Blooming
Using Intersectional Peonies Style & Peonies Mixing Types of Peonies Structuring Mixed Gardens
Companion Plants

There are about as many ways to plan a garden as there are to decorate a house. Styles range from the formal to natural, historic to modern, colorful to monotone. Start with your own style, think about the land you have to work with, the house you are trying to match, and dream. Then take the time to prepare the soil, deal with drainage issues and discover the pattern of the sun. Once this is done you are ready to begin. Know that a beautiful garden takes years to develop, hours of planning, and weeks in the dirt. Remember the old garden truisms - first year sleep, second year creep, third year leap - or first year roots, second year shoots, third year flowers.

For information on planting individual plants see our section on planting on our peony care page. For information about choosing specific varieties of peonies see the section on shapes & colors on our peony care page.

Gather Ideas

Begin by brainstorming what you want out of your garden. There are about as many ways to plan a garden as there are to decorate a house. Styles range from the formal to natural, historic to modern, colorful to monotone. Start with your own style, think about the land you have to work with, the house you are trying to match, and find what inspires you. Clip photos, search the internet, drive around your neighborhood, tour botanic gardens and parks - take pictures, take notes and ask your friends. This is the time to determine what you like so take it all in. Nothing is set in stone yet so open yourself up and dream.

Consider Your Environment
USDA Hardiness Zone Map

Items to consider:

  • Horticultural Zone
  • Seasonal Rainfall
  • Soil Moisture
  • Sunlight
  • Seasonal Influences - such as hot summer sun or snow drifting
  • Microclimates within Your Garden - shady spots, windy corners, dry & wet spots

Click here for information on the environmental requirements needed to grow peonies.

Examine, Test & Ammend Your Soil

One of the most important, and often ignored, pieces of creating a successful garden involves the creating a healthy soil environment. There are two ways to go about this in your garden - you can either choose your plants to match the current state of your soil or you can adapt your soil to support the type of ecosystem you desire. Either way in the end the composition of your soil should match the plant species it supports.

A good place to start in the process is to evaluate the current state of your soil. Any plant species that are currently present will be key indicators of the health and composition of the soil - is the vegetation lush and thick, thin and weak, composed of wetland plants, a solid mat of one particular species? Once you infer as much information as possible it is best if you have your soil tested. Your local extension service should offer soil testing. ___ Insert info on how to take a soil test. Be sure to look at the composition of microorganisms in addition to the pH and mineral content of your soil. Remember that the soil is a living ecosystem unto itself and requires ongoing maintenance to remain healthy and functioning. If you are currently having problems in your garden the soil is the best place to begin your investigation.

Click here for information on how to amend your garden soil for peony plantings.

Measure & Plan

For both existing and brand new gardens it is important to begin by looking at the whole. Determine the overall flow of your garden and consider it's functional needs.

Things to consider

  • The amount of space you have available
  • The dimensions of that space. (Is it long and thin, square, are their lots of existing features to work around)
  • What is the location of the pathways and access points?
  • How do you want to divide up the space? (The size, shape, and location of garden beds)
  • Are there any special use needs? (Kids play area, dog running space)
  • What is the line of sight through the garden and how will pieces look from inside the house?
  • Where does the light come from and how does this vary over the seasons?
  • Are their areas that need special attention? (Very wet, very dry, nothing seems to grow there)
  • Are you attempting to create any visual barriers?

Determine Your Investment Level

Determine the scope of your garden project - whether you want to tackle the whole area, if you want to divide the garden into pieces and work on them over time, or do the basics now and fill it in later. Also consider the amount of time and effort you want to put in to maintaining your garden. This will not only help you determine the scope it will also help you decide on the style of the garden and the types of plants you will include.

Consider Style

Begin by considering the style of your house and any existing garden elements that are in place. A colonial home will evoke a different overall style than a brick ranch, or a modern home. Be sure to try to match the style of garden you want to create with they style of your home. Use this to determine if you want more of a cottage style garden, a formal garden, a modern garden, as well as what colors of plants to use.

Most perennials take at least three years to begin to reach their full size. Plan your garden for the future, leaving the appropriate space between plants so that each plant can grow to it's full extent. Know that your garden will be beautiful in time, everything must go through it's awkward phase.
Know Your Peonies
Types of Peonies Woodland Tree Herbaceous Intersectional
Click to view our peony care page with detailed information on each type of peony
Woodland peonies are deer proof. They naturalize well in a deciduous woodland where they get early spring sun, before the leaves come on the trees, and summer shade. They look beautiful planted on their own, or can be planted as part of a mixed shade garden with hellebores, hosta, ferns, lily of the valley, and bleeding heart to name a few.
Creating a Naturalized Planting in the Woodland

For a naturalized planting we begin by throwing the number of tennis balls that correspond with the number of plants we want to plant up into the air loosely and allowing them to settle naturally. Then digging a hole at each location where a tennis ball falls.

PLANTING - Woodland peonies tend to spread more horizontally than they do vertically. They like the rich hummus top soil that tends to be found in the woodland and use this looser soil to grow horizontally. Like all peonies they need good drainage and a relatively high level of organic matter in the soil. We recommend digging holes that are 1 foot wide by 8 inches deep. Woodland peonies should be planted in a similar manner to other herbaceous peonies, click here for details on planting herbaceous peonies.

How to Plant Woodland Peonies
Woodland peonies have viable seeds and if let go naturally will self seed in an area creating swaths of peonies.
Woodland Peony Planting
When planting tree peonies it is important to consider the size and presentation of the plant.
Gansu/Rockii Flower

Tree peonies form woody bushes that range in height between 3 and seven feet tall. They should be spaced based on the expected width of the plant and placed in the garden based on the expected height. When grouping tree peonies consider matching height and growth habit above all.

Most dwarf varieties will be spreading, have leaf coverage that spreads to the ground, and become wider than they are tall. Medium height tree peonies are typically partially spreading, forming plants that are as wide as they are tall (5' in diameter and 5' tall). Tall tree peonies are typically conical and form bushes that are taller than they are wide, growing more vertically than they do horizontally.

Dwarf plants are ideal in the front of the garden as they will become densely leafed button bushes. Mid height tree peonies make excellent stand alone plants. They are often seen in a corner that is partially protected from wind, with ample space around them. The coverage at the base is typically sufficient to make the bush beautiful on its own. However they make excellent accent plants at the back of the garden. Tall plants should be planted behind other plants as they have minimal leaf coverage toward the base and will grow rather tall, up to 7'. Plan for ample space in the garden for them to grow into. Keep in mind that tree peonies are slow growing plants and will take 10-15 years to reach maturity.

The placement of your tree peony will depend greatly on the height/shape as well as the leaf type and flower posture. See our peony care page for details on how to choose tree peonies based on these specifications.

Difference in Leaf Coverage - shown in year 4
Tall/Conical - no coverage at base   Med/Part Spread - moderate coverage at base   Dwarf/Spreading - great coverage at base

Remember that tree peonies grow slowly and can take 10+ years to reach their full size. We suggest interplanting tree peonies with shallow rooted plants such as irises that will fill in the space quickly but can be moved once the tree peony grows larger.

Individual Plants
Tools Needed Remove Rocks
Space peony so it has 5' to grow into ~5 Year Old Tall/Conical Plant
~15 Year Old Medium/Part Spreading ~15 Year Old Dwarf/Spreading
Bookends - 2 Plants

When using bookends as the caps at the front of the walkway, we recommend dwarf tree peonies as they will have leaf and flower coverage to the base of the plant.

When using them at the back of a long walkway a medium partially spreading plant would be ideal as it would give the height and stature to provide the needed grandeur for the space.

Grouping - 3 Plants
Groupings can be created with tree peonies of the same height and shape, or of varying shapes. Be sure to plant the larger varieties in the back and give each plant adequate space to eventually grow into. Tree peonies like lots of air flow between plants.
Border - 5+ Plants
A row of dwarf/spreading tree peonies in flower in front of a row of mid/partially spreading tree peonies
4years after planting - note there is already a difference in plant shape & height
Dwarf tree peonies are perfect as low growing hedges or borders.
Double Border - 10+ Plants
Individual Plants
Tools Needed Remove Rocks
Walkway/Bookends - 2 Plants
Herbaceous Peony Spacing
Grouping - 3 Plants
Small Hedge - 5+ Plants
Long Hedge - 25+ Plants
Allée- 25+ Plants
Raised Beds
Tools Needed Remove Rocks
Tools Needed Remove Rocks
The Frame Place & Fill


Our raised beds measure 12 feet long x 4 feet wide x 1 foot deep.

You will need:
2 - Pressure treated pine boards (not for growing food) that are 1 foot x 2 inches x 12 feet
2 - Pressure treated pine boards that are 1 foot x 2 inches x 4 feet
1 - Pressure treated 4 inch x 4 inch post - cut into 4 - 14 inch tall sections
32+ - 3 1/2 inch deck screws, we use size 10
32+ - washers with a 1/4 inch hole
Drill Bit & Drill

Line all pieces up in a rectangle using 4x4 posts on the inside corners of the boxes. Use 4 screws & 4 washers, 8 per corner, to attach each corner of the long boards to the 4x4 posts (pre-drill each hole). Note that the 4x4 posts will extend a few inches below the box to keep the sides of the raised beds from sitting in the mud.

Boxes can be lined with landscaping fabric to hold in the potting mix but still allow drainage. If you opt not to use landscaping fabric note that the potting mix will settle out at the beginning, until the soil structure develops. We recommend using potting soil as the growing medium because soil compacts and doesn't allow enough drainage. We avoid all bark (creates fungus in peonies). Promote drainage by amending your potting soil with such things as compost, coconut core, rice hulls, worm castings, perlite and crushed limestone or granite. You want to create a light friable potting medium.

Individual Plants
Tools Needed Remove Rocks

Intersectional peonies can be spaced and laid out in the garden in the same configurations as the herbaceous peonies above. The major difference between intersectional and herbaceous peonies is that intersectional peonies are more compact plants with foliage extending to the base of the plant. This makes them better suited to the front of the garden planning. Intersectional peonies average 2' tall by 3.5' wide at maturity.

Please refer to the illustrations above on herbaceous peonies for ideas on how to space your intersectional peonies. We particularly recommend planting intersectional peonies as the front of a long linear garden border. They not only provide good lower leaf coverage but they also flower for longer than any other type of peony.

Intersectional Peonies with Herbaceous Peonies
When using intersectional peonies with herbaceous peonies place the intersectional peonies in the front row.
Front of Border
Rows of Intersectional Peonies

Determining the cultivars you select will largely be based not only on function but on style. The look of peonies varies from plants that suit a formal garden, to an Asian Garden, to an informal cottage garden. Choosing cultivars should not only be based on the light & surrounding plants but it will also be based on leaf color, leaf type, flower shape, flower color, and growth habit. Remember that colors can be used to elongate spaces or create focal points. Also know that intersectional, tree, and herbaceous peonies have different bloom times so you can move in a color wave throughout the season. Try to match your peonies with the other plants that will be blooming along side them.

Gansu or Rockii Tree Peonies are typically mid height partially spreading plants with thin billowy leaves - plant shown 4 years after planting

For those of you that have a peony collection, or are interested in starting one, we want to share some tips on adding the less conventional yellow colored peonies to your garden.

Yellow tree peonies are a cross breed of a different hybrid than other colored tree peonies. This gives them the unique characteristic of blooming after most of the other cultivars. End result, you don't have to worry about matching the yellow's with the other colors.  They will provide the bridge between the pink/white/purple tree peonies and the beginning of the coral herbaceous bloom.

Using a combination of herbaceous, tree & intersectional peonies can offer a dramatic result. Locations for each type of peony should be based on their light requirements (herbaceous & intersectional peonies want full sun, while tree peonies want dappled light) as well as the space available in the garden (3 feet for herbaceous & intersectional, 4-5 feet for tree). Tree peonies will bloom first, followed by herbaceous peonies, followed by intersectional peonies.
Plants shown from left to right - intersectional peony, tree peony, herbaceous peonies
Planting Example - It will be years before these light purple tree peonies reach full height (5ft)
Once they do they will tower over the herbaceous peonies to the right of them.
Wooded areas with dappled light are better suited for tree peonies.
Herbaceous & Intersectional peonies will grow but will not flower to their full extent.

- Grass Pathways -

- Mulch Pathways -

- Brick Pathways -

- Concrete Pathways with Trellis -

- Trellises as Garden Feature -

- Stone Wall & Stairway to Change Grade -

- Stone Stairway as Focal Point-

- Rock Walls to Change Grade & Frame Garden -

- Raised Beds -

- Seating Areas -

- Formal Structure with Informal Planting -

Click here to view our page dedicated to Companion Plants
  • Fearnley-Whittingstall, Jane. 1999. Peonies, New York, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
    • Beautifully designed, sections on history, garden planning, cultivar selection, and planting.

  • Halda, Josef J. with Waddick, James W. 2004. The Genus Paeonia, Portland, Oregon:
    Timber  Press, Inc.
    • Illustrated by Jarmila Haldova, this book discusses 25 native species of the genus Paeonia.

  • Harding, Alice. 1993. The Peony, Portland Oregon: Sagapress, Inc. & Timber Press, Inc.
    • A compilation of Harding’s original works on peonies first published in 1917 &1923, which remain compulsory reading. Introduction and updates by Roy Klehm.

  • Lianying, Wang, 1998. Chinese Tree Peony, Beijing China:
    China Forestry Publishing House.
    • The best book I have yet to find on peonies.

  • McGeorge, Pamela. 2006. Peonies, Buffalo, New York: Firefly Books.
    • Good overview, an enjoyable read, packed full of information.

  • McLewin, Will & Chen, Dezhong. 2006. Peony Rockii and Ganzu Mudan, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Wellesley-Cambridge Press.
    • Best book I have found on Rockii Peonies/Gansu Mudan

  • Osti, Gian Lupo. 2004. The Book of Mediterranean Peonies, Umberto Allemandi & C. New York, New York.
    • Wonderfully illustrated introduction to thes lesser known peony species

  • Page, Martin. 1997 & 2002. The Gardener’s Guide to Growing Peonies, Portland, Oregon:
    Timber Press, Inc.
    • Another primer, good pictures and descriptions of well-known herbaceous cultivars.

  • Rogers, Allan 1995. Peonies, Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, Inc.
    Written by a grower, this book is well written and most helpful.

Peony's Envy PO Box 114 - 34 Autumn Hill Drive Bernardsville, NJ 07924