Not your Grandma’s Peony for sure! I was so pleased to see a series of peony that will perform well in containers, ideal for those of us who feel that we have no more room in our gardens. Peonies can offer a veritable ‘peony-palooza’ extravaganza in any garden and now on balconies and patios as well.
The typical peonies from our childhood are classic workhorses in the perennial garden offering structure and bloom reliability, albeit for a finite period. Considered by some gardeners to be to big and cumbersome for the short bloom period, many being fraught with weak stems and floppiness. Perhaps having fallen from grace for a period, these classic giants are making a comeback it seems in a new and re-worked form.
Thanks to some very clever breeding, an establishment in the Netherlands have blended the very best attributes of Peony with some clever adaptations that allow for successful container growing. There are eight choices of peony in total, all named after cities – ‘Moscow’, ‘Rome’, ‘London’, ‘Madrid’, ‘Athens’, ‘Dublin’, ‘Kiev’ and ‘Oslo’ – and produce flowers in mostly shades of red, white and pink. Kiev has an ‘Anemone’ type flower that is a rich, deep pink and a creamy yellow centre. The foliage is very sturdy, dark glossy green and short by peony standards, on 50-60 cm (20-23 inches). You might consider collecting other flower forms that have variation in bloom time so as to extend the bloom season on your balcony or patio. This series of Peony is also excellent for mass plantings, and what a show that would be in the early spring. Tolerant to adverse conditions, considered deer resistant (perhaps) and relatively carefree are some of the major attributes of the selection. Ideally the plants should be grown in good sun for the best results, but they will tolerate a little shade if they must. Peonies have a very deep root system which is one of the contributing factors to their virulence in the garden, also making them rather difficult to transplant or move. Best left alone in the garden, these hefty perennials will continue to bloom with awesome regularity for many, many years.
Keep in mind that the new varieties also have a substantial root mass and as such, a good deep container would be my preference for your first trial and balcony peonies. Personally, I prefer terra cotta as it is sturdy, heavy and breaths also. Winds are an issue in my region so having containers that are unlikely to move around or blow over are a major consideration, particularly on balconies. Of course, good design would dictate that three containers are a preferable arrangement to a single pot or for that matter any odd number multiples; judge yourself accordingly. If you have decided to use a terra cotta container the soil medium should be prepared so that it is somewhat heavier in actual soil rather than the artificial media mixes that are so popular for planting in plastic containers. I simply mix about 2/3 artificial mix with 1/3 good loam or topsoil (bagged potting soil is ok also).
The plant will have a collar or a visible region above the roots and just below the foliage which marks the depth in which this plant prefers to be planted. Usually, container grown Peonies will already have an established depth for planting, just follow that if you are confused. Terra cotta containers should also be soaked with water prior to adding the soil mix, being porous, the pot will absorb any and all moisture from the soil mix if not pre-soaked. Naturally, the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot must be covered with shard(s) or a piece or two of coarse gravel to allow for proper drainage. Fertilizer is considered unnecessary for Peonies; however, you may wish to add some well rotted manure or your own compost in the early season to give them a boost.
Gardeners in colder climates, for example zone 3 and lower will need to take special precautions to ensure survival of the potted peony. Bringing the plant indoors for the winter is not a viable option as the house is too warm and the poor plant will struggle for certain. Leaving it on the balcony is also not really a good idea as contained plants freeze rapidly from the sides in as well as the top down. Some gardeners will place the container in a Styrofoam cooler with extra insulation around the outside and have reported success. Others approach a neighbour who has a garden and negotiate somewhat so they can plunge/bury their container in soil for the winter. Clever and inventive as we gardeners are, there is most likely another excellent method out there that works even better, let us know!