Peony perfection

The western world first learned about peonies from Marco Polo, who described them as “roses the size of cabbages”. I fell in love with these flowers when I saw them up close for the first time, in my daughter-in-law’s bridal bouquet. I want to grow some in my Mudgee garden. Knowing nothing about peonies, I reached out to our local gardening Facebook group, “All things gardening Mudgee Rylstone and Kandos”. It was good to hear that a few members of the group are successfully growing peonies in Mudgee and surrounds.

Later I talked to Philippe Tot, director of the Penjing Academy of Australia (which is located at Lue, near Mudgee). Philippe is a qualified horticulturalist and knows a great deal about growing peonies.

The peony is native to China, where it’s called mǔdān, or “flower of wealth and honour”.

As a curator at the Darling Harbour Chinese Garden in Sydney, Philippe successfully grew peonies in the temperate, coastal environment way outside their ideal habitat. Here are some of Philippe’s tips for growing peonies.

  • Peonies can be grown in Mudgee thanks to our cold winters.
  • Peonies naturally grow on rocky mountain slopes. There are two main types- herbaceous and tree peonies. Philippe recommended I try tree peonies as they’re more robust than the herbaceous peonies.


  • Peonies require soil with a high pH- that is, alkaline. Rocky soil is fine for peonies.


  • It’s very important to protect peonies from winds.
  • Add dolomite after the peony has become established.
  • When creating a peony garden, Philippe recommends choosing just a couple of colours for maximum effect.

Here are some other interesting peony facts I’ve found online.

  • Herbaceous peonies die back to ground level each autumn. Their stems reappear the following spring. Tree peonies produce permanent woody stems that lose their leaves in winter while the stem remains intact above ground level.


  • The peony blooms annually for decades. Peony plants have been known to live up to 100 years.
  • Peonies are among the largest garden flowers with a range of colours from lemon yellow to shades or red and pink to almost black.
  • When buying tree peonies always look for named varieties and ask for cultural notes. Plants can be bought in pots or as tubers when dormant.
  • Raised garden beds which provide good drainage are essential. Mulch peonies to protect their root zone.
  • Peonies will grow in close to full sun but need to be protected from scorching sun and strong winds which can snap the stems.
  • Some peonies are wonderfully fragrant.


You can read more about Philippe Tot’s bonsai shop and the fascinating background to his work, at my blog post Each tree tells a story.

Have you grown peonies? Please share your wisdom by leaving a comment.





8 Comments Add yours

  1. Rachel Stuart says:

    How lovely, Jane. I’m absolutely with you on peonies.

    1. My Dream Garden says:

      Have you grown them Rachel? I think the main challenge here will be the hot winds in summer. I’ll probably have to construct something to protect them at that time of year. They’re worth a special effort. 🌸😀

  2. susurrus says:

    I love peonies too. I’ve just planted one in my mother’s garden, but reading this, I fear the soil, which is clay, is probably on the acid side of neutral. Fingers crossed though!

    1. My Dream Garden says:

      Hi there Susan, Philippe has advised annual applications of dolomite so maybe that would be helpful. I wish you success! Jane

      1. susurrus says:

        Thank you!

  3. tonytomeo says:

    Supposedly, they ‘can’ be grown in the higher elevations of the Santa Monica Mountains! They barely survive the mild winter here, which get more chill than the Santa Monica Mountains. Some people grow them here, but most do not. No one can figure out how they thrive in some spots but not others in the same neighborhood and climate.

    1. My Dream Garden says:

      Interesting! They certainly sound like a challenge. Worth a bit of effort though.

      1. tonytomeo says:

        I know they are worth it to those who really want t grow them. I prefer to grow what does well here. My neighbor in town had exquisite peonies! I could not figure it out.

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