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How to care for peonies, the flower that blooms for generations

Roger Lycette's love affair with peonies began decades ago. He shows us how to care for and propagate the breathtaking heirloom flowers.

BANGOR, Maine — Roger Lycette jokes that it's his wife's fault that he has an addiction to peonies.

"She kicked me out of the house and made me start all this," Lycette said as he pointed to his impressive garden full of peony blossoms. 

A retired field engineer for IBM, Lycette began his love for gardening after leaving his job. Peonies were not his first choice, however. He started with delphiniums, but the perennial only lasts a couple of years while peonies can live for generations.  

"The first thing about a peony is its longevity. If you look around at all the peonies I've got here, they're all going to be here when I'm no longer here. They live like 100 years easily." the gardener explained. "They're a wonderful investment because although they might cost you something to begin with, you don't have to repeatedly replace them and they're beautiful. In the month of June, there's nothing prettier than a field of peonies."

When asked how many different specimens of peony he had in his garden, Lycette estimated well over 200. 

"It would be guessing on my part right now. I have a list on my phone. There's probably 100 names I have listed and that's the ones I know the names of. I've probably got another 100 that I don't have the names of. I've got duplicates and triplicates of some of them," Lycette said. 

Peonies do vary in value. The gardener revealed that there was a peony being sold in a catalog for thousands of dollars. Lycette joked that his birthday was coming up and he'd like a peony named Pastelegance as a gift. 

Gardening with Gutner did a search and found this peony for sale from Swenson Gardens in Minnesota for $6000. While this specimen was pricey, they also sold peonies for $30. 

Credit: Swenson Gardens

Roger's birthday gift choice:

Credit: The American Peony Society

The retired engineer has been part of the Peony Society of Maine since 2013. The organization was founded in 2000. 

"It was ten people, I think, who got together who all loved peonies, and they thought they wanted to start a little group. So they got together over somebody's kitchen table and decided to start something called the Peony Society of Maine," Lycette divulged. 

The society's biggest event of the year is its annual garden tour, which takes place in June when the peonies are in their peak bloom. The event begins at Lycette's garden. Along with the tour, the organization hosts workshops to help people who are just learning about the show-stopping flower. Lycette is a former society president and is involved in teaching at the workshops. 

As Lycette gave a tour of his beautiful garden, he revealed the basics of peony care and propagation.

There are three types of peonies.

Credit: NCM

"I guess the secret is ... I call it ... doing peonies ... the three P's," Lycette revealed.


Credit: NCM

The gardener said you prepare by digging the hole for your plant and you plan by deciding where you want it to grow. Peonies need at least a half a day of sunlight to bloom and grow. There are a few woodland species that only need filtered light and can be planted in shadier conditions. You will need patience because it takes three years before the plants will bloom. 

"There's three things they do," Lycette explained. "The first year they sleep. The second year they creep, and the third year they leap."

Credit: NCM

"Get them in as early as you can in the fall because that's when they start growing little feeder roots throughout the winter," Lycette instructed. "They love our weather here."

Dividing peonies:

Credit: NCM
Credit: NCM
Credit: NCM


Lycette warned against using mulch on peonies because the buildup from years of mulching will eventually cover the eyes and therefore they won't bloom.  


Credit: NCM

When asked if he was a little sad when the peonies stopped blooming, Lycette wistfully said, "I come out and say goodbye to the girls and say I'll see you next year, but yeah I'm sad to see the blooms go. They have to go. That's the way they are." 

To see all the Gardening with Gutner segments click HERE.

If you have a suggestion for a topic or know of a garden we should visit, you can send an email to us at gardeningwithgutner@newscentermaine.com and you can follow us on Instagram at  @gardeningwithgutner

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