Outside the front boundary of my garden was a strip of grass. By a quirk of history, part of it belongs to me and part to the local council. Being a plantaholic, my part is no longer grass but now contains plants that revel in the well-drained soil and full sun it offers. Of these, there is one that regularly stops passers-by in their tracks for a second look when it is in bloom during the first half of May..
Paeonia tenuifolia is an herbaceous peony, growing up to two and a half feet tall with a similar width. The cup-shaped single flowers are deep red and scented, but what really sets this member of the peony family apart from its cousins is the foliage, soft to the touch, deep green and divided (tenuifolia translates as thin-leaved).
Paeonia tenuifolia is one of the earliest species to flower but also enters dormancy earlier than most, presumably an adaption to cope with the hot, dry summers it encounters in the wild. Despite coping with these hot conditions, it should prove hardy to -15C or even a few degrees lower.
As well as the form pictured, there is one with double flowers (P. t. var plena), a pink flowered form (P. t. ‘Rosea’) and a double-flowered form of it (P. t. ‘Rosea Plena’). A white-flowered form has been reported in Russia but this may be a very pale form of ‘Rosea’ which does tend to bleach as the blooms fade.