Heirloom Peonies You'll Treasure | Midwest Living

Heirloom Peonies You'll Treasure

Hardy, fragrant and long-lasting, Midwest-friendly heirloom peonies bring character to the landscape and add charm to any container.
  • Heirloom Peonies

    Heirloom peonies

    It’s the rare flower that delivers romance and of-the-moment appeal, but the herbaceous peony does both with grace. The versatile bloom takes center stage at the University of Michigan’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum in Ann Arbor. There, North America’s most extensive collection of heirloom peonies ranges from pure white varieties through soft pinks and all the way to deep reds. The rich colors make these perennials a hit in bridal bouquets, but they're hardy enough to brighten any backyard. Click ahead for a glimpse of the Ann Arbor gardens and more information about peony varieties and care. lsa.umich.edu

  • University of Michigan’s Nichols Arboretum

    Why heirlooms?

    North America's most extensive collection of heirloom peonies (ones that predate the 1950s) blooms against the backdrop of the University of Michigan’s Nichols Arboretum. (Peonies need an extended period of winter chill in order to bloom, which may explain their success up north). The world-class garden has more than 270 cultivated varieties of heirloom peonies from the 19th and early 20th centuries, when full flowers were in vogue. Lush blooms aren't the only benefit to an heirloom variety, though. Heirlooms also give off an exquisite rose-like fragrance with a citrusy edge, a scent more recent peony types don't have. Plus, there's the tug of nostalgia—planting and caring for a beautiful piece of history. Click or tap ahead for information on some popular heirloom peonies.


  • 'Mrs. Edward Harding'

    ‘Mrs. Edward Harding’ is an American award-winning peony dating to 1928.

  • Elisa


    Introduced in 1922, ‘Elisa’ features cup-shape pale pink petals.

  • 'L'Etincelante'


    ‘L'Etincelante’ is an unusual-shape peony, reminiscent of flowers on a tulip magnolia tree.

  • ‘Polar Star’

    ‘Polar Star’

    ‘Polar Star’ is a Japanese-form white peony with distinct yellow stamens, dating to 1932.

  • ‘Mr. Thim’

    ‘Mr. Thim’

    ‘Mr. Thim’, a classic single peony, was introduced in 1926.

  • ‘Lois Kelsey’

    ‘Lois Kelsey’

    ‘Lois Kelsey’ is an unusual fringed peony from a U.S. breeder, introduced in 1934.

  • ‘Gay Paree’

    ‘Gay Paree’

    ‘Gay Paree’, introduced in 1933, is a fragrant and long-lasting peony.

  • ‘Lord Kitchener’

    ‘Lord Kitchener’

    ‘Lord Kitchener’ is a brilliant cherry-red double bloomer, dating to 1918.

  • ‘Isoline’


    ‘Isoline’, a French hybrid dating to 1916, features creamy-white cupped petals.

  • ‘Irwin Altman’

    ‘Irwin Altman’

    ‘Irwin Altman’, an excellent example of a double flower form, dates to 1940.

  • ‘Illini Belle’

    ‘Illini Belle’

    ‘Illini Belle’ is a semi-double peony introduced in 1941 in the U.S.

  • ‘Angela Cobb Freeborn’

    ‘Angela Cobb Freeborn’

    ‘Angela Cobb Freeborn’ was introduced in the U.S. in 1943.

  • ‘Largo’


    ‘Largo’, 1929, is an exemplary Japanese form with very sturdy stems.

  • ‘Ave Maria’

    ‘Ave Maria’

    ‘Ave Maria’, introduced in 1936, is known for its exceptional fragrance.

  • ‘Pride of Langport’

    ‘Pride of Langport’

    ‘Pride of Langport’ is an American rose-pink peony with single cupped petals and fringed gold stamens, dating to 1909. Historically, its form was described as “floriferous.”

  • ‘Fortune Teller’

    ‘Fortune Teller’

    ‘Fortune Teller’ was introduced in 1936; it is as reliable as it is beautiful.


  • ‘Do Tell’

    ‘Do Tell’

    ‘Do Tell’ is a single peony with pink petals, introduced in the U.S. in 1946.

  • ‘Festiva’


    ‘Festiva’, creamy-white with crimson flecks, is a circa-1838 double peony from Belgium. 

  • ‘Suzette’


    ‘Suzette’ is a 1911 French introduction with cupped petals and a light fragrance.

  • ‘Karl Rosenfield’

    ‘Karl Rosenfield’

    ‘Karl Rosenfield’, introduced by a U.S. breeder in 1908, is a double flower with slightly ruffled edges to its petals.

  • Peony Care

    Planting peonies

    With the right start and minimal care, peonies will deliver beautiful blooms in almost every backyard. Place peonies in moist, rich, well-drained soil. Plant bare-root peonies in the fall; those grown in a container can be planted in the spring. Peonies prefer full sun, but afternoon shade is recommended in climates with hot springtime conditions. Incorporate organic compost into areas with heavy clay soil before planting. 



  • Nichols Arboretum gardeners evaluate peony specimens.

    Peony care

    Fall and winter precipitation usually provide enough irrigation for newly planted bare-root peonies, but container-grown blooms should be watered regularly until they are established. Come spring, peonies need to be watered regularly during dry spells, especially prior to blooming. If necessary, feed peonies in spring with a balanced organic fertilizer (too much nitrogen will encourage foliage growth over bloom production). Protect crowns in winter, raking away excess mulch in spring. Avoid over-watering the crowns, a practice that can lead to root rot. 

    Mature peonies are 2-4 feet high by up to 3 feet wide. Heirloom peonies may require staking or supports to keep the blooms upright. Blooms can range from 6 to 10 inches in many forms, including single, double, Japanese, and multipetal varieties.  

Add Your Comment