Contrary to popular opinion, the tree peony (Paeonia suffruticosa) is a surprisingly easy shrub to grow, as long as it basic needs are met. The name “tree peony” must be dismissed as an exaggeration since this woody shrub can grow 4 to 5 feet tall and spread an equal distance. The shrub is free flowering and bears large, sweetly fragrant flowers, either single or double, in a wide range of colors.
The tree peony cultivar ‘High Noon’ was developed by Professor Arthur P. Saunders (1869 – 1953) in 1952 and is depicted as a columnar-shaped American hybrid with a large cup shaped semi-double, clear lemon-yellow flower set off by small raspberry red flares that bloom in late spring or early summer. The flowers are described to “have great beauty and refinement.” Saunders is known as the father of the modern hybrid peony and a leader of the American Peony Society. ‘High Noon’ was awarded the American Peony Society Gold Medal in 1989. “Any number of early peony growers made species crosses, some of which afforded glimpses of things to come, but it was not until Saunders’ landmark work that the bewildering number of breeding possibilities inherent in the peony were recognized.”
Tree peonies grow best in morning sun with some afternoon shade. Five to six hours of light is sufficient. Plant in well-drained, friable soil in a protected location where winter snow is probable. If the soil fertility is poor it can upgraded with compost and leafmold. The planting hole should be 15 inches deep and 30 inches wide. Avoid a location where extreme heat, wet soil, and hot afternoon sun will be a problem. With our unpredictable winters, tree peonies should be protected with a structure built around them in the fall and filled with leaves for good winter protection. The ground around the plant should also be covered with mulch.