Heirloom Peonies - Old Fashioned and Still in Style

The snow melted, the sun came out and our peonies are doing their thing - sprouting. Our early blooming varieties generally make a good showing in February and they are not disappointing this year. Every year we love the sight of peonies pushing through the soil.

When it’s wet and rainy, I have more time to research peonies, peony varieties, hybridizers and all things related to these gorgeous perennials. There is always something to learn or discover, and lately I have been smitten by the great old-time peonies.

The definition of heirloom peonies may be debated by experts and gardeners; but, it seems a general consensus is cultivars that have been raised for generations. These are often referred to as old fashioned, homestead, Grandma’s or heirloom peonies. Many date from perhaps 50 – 160+ years ago.  They are often noted for their wonderful fragrance and big, full blossoms. They are stunning in arrangements and bouquets. Some are stout, upright plants while others benefit from staking.

I am looking forward to seeing my new, very favorite heirloom peony grow and bloom in the next couple of years. I don’t know what color it is, how old it is, if it’s fragrant or what name it has. I may even find I grow it already; but, I am thrilled with anticipation to watch it grow.  Yesterday I detected the eye, just beginning to emerge! Last fall I received the small root with an eye from my cousin in Alabama. It was our great Grandmother Mary’s peony. Mary was born in Germany about 1862 and immigrated to the U.S. about 1882. She lived in Newton, Kansas until moving to Mt. Angel, Oregon between 1895 and 1900, passing away in 1956. No matter the variety or age, I intend to propagate and share this 'family heirloom' peony with my siblings and cousins.

It got me to thinking about some of the very old varieties we grow; still so popular today. Here are some of the 100+ year old peonies that you can see blooming on our farm each May. We offer some of these varieties each year. Many will be available in pots this spring and a few are offered bare root through our website. 


Photo's: Festiva Maxima; Mons Paillet; Benjamin Franklin; Frances Willard.

  • Festiva Maxima (Miellez, 1851) – white, huge double, super fragrance.
  • Duchesse de Nemours (Calot, 1856) – white, double, fragrant.
  • Mons Paillet (Guerin, 1857) - blush, double, fragrant.
  • L’Eclatante (Calot, 1860) – red, double, fragrant.
  • Mons Dupont (Calot, 1872) - white, huge double, fragrant.
  • Felix Crousse ( Crousse, 1881) – raspberry red, double.
  • Avalanche (Crousse, 1886) - white, double, light fragrance.
  • La Perle (Crousse, 1886) - soft lavender pink, double, very fragrant.
  • Mons Jules Elie (Crousse, 1888) - rose pink, double bomb style, fragrant.
  • Mikado (Japan, 1893) – rosy red, Japanese style.
  • Lady Alexandra Duff ( Kelway, 1902) – pale blush, double, fragrant.
  • Therese (Dessert, 1904) – old rose pink, double, fragrant.
  • Sarah Bernhardt (Lemoine, 1906) pink, double, fragrant.
  • Benjamin Franklin (Brand, 1907) – scarlet red, double, mild fragrance.
  • Frances Willard (Brand, 1907) – white/blush, double, fragrant.
  • Solange (Lemoine, 1907) – creamy white with suffusion of buff, double, fragrant.
  • Karl Rosenfield (Rosenfield, 1908) – red, double, stunning petal structure.
  • Chestine Gowdy (Brand, 1913) – pink, double, fragrant.
  • Lora Dexheimer (Brand, 1913) - crimson red, double.

You can see more photos of our heirloom peonies on Pinterest

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