From early childhood, peonies had a special place in my heart. Perhaps it was that their bloom time coincided with my June birthday. Or my mother's often recounted memory of the lavish peony bouquet that Dad had gave her in the early days of their courtship. I loved the soft colors, full blooms and heavenly scent of peony blossoms. Like other June brides, I included peonies in my wedding bouquet, and they were the first perennials that I planted in my garden.
Although gorgeous on their own, peonies can be paired with other perennials and shrubs that will serve as complements or offer contrasts in shape, form or texture. Below are examples of peony partners from my own garden and others that I have toured.
Pale pink peonies in my garden are paired with purple heuchera, geranium 'Biokovo' and the colorful foliage of weigela 'My Monet', which is only 2' tall at maturity.
The spiky form and soft blue color of catmint complements all types of peonies, as seen at The Mount.
Digitalis offers a strong architectural form that contrasts well with peony flowers.
On the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, peonies are paired with pale pink poppies and alliums.
I enjoy underplanting peonies with purple heucheras and Geranium 'Johnson's Blue'.
Siberian and bearded irises provide a strong complement to peonies with their large flowers and statuesque form.
Baptisia, with its spires of blue, white, purple or yellow flowers, creates a great backdrop for peonies.
The large flower heads of alliums balance the prominent flowers of double peonies at Ambler Arboretum in Pennsylvania.
This lovely combination of coral peonies and purple alliums was a prominent planting feature at Longwood Gardens this spring.
Light pink peonies cascade over the fading blooms of hellebores and perennial geraniums. Hellebores thrive in sunny spots as long as they are watered regularly.
A boxwood hedge creates a stately and serene background for peonies in a Delaware garden.
Shrubs that flower at the same time as peonies, such as mountain laurels (above) and rhododendrons, provide pleasing counterparts. At Winterthur, the peony garden is framed by several old fashioned 'beauty bush' (kolwitzia) shrubs, which can be trained into a tree form or left as a weeping shrub.
A gold smoke tree, Cotinus 'Golden Spirit', provides a stunning backdrop for coral peonies at Longwood Gardens. In my garden, weigela 'Wine and Roses' sets off the dark blooms of peony 'Karl Rosenfeld'.
The maroon foliage of a 'Crimson Queen' Japanese maple provides a stunning backdrop to peonies in bud and bloom.
In my cutting garden, the peonies are backed by an ivy-covered stone wall that has both aesthetic and functional benefits. It shields the peonies from wind and radiates warmth on cool spring days.