What does a peony smell like?

One of the most common questions I get when it comes to peonies! What is their scent like? And of course, when I’m forever banging on about how beautifully fragrant they are.. 

Fragrance is one of those things that are notoriously difficult to describe. And not all peonies smell the same – different varieties are prized for their fragrance, which can range from warm, sweet and rosy, to cool, citrusy and fresh. Their scent is at their height early in their blooming process, when they are ripe for pollination – sending a strong signal to bees and other pollinators. Their fragrance can change dramatically from bud to late bloom, and can also be affected by sun, heat and humidity. So clearly, their scent is as dynamic as the blooms themselves.

To me (as people perceive their scent quite differently), peonies smell luxuriantly warm summer days on the way. Rose-like, ultra clear, cool and fresh, without being too sweet. You’ll often hear the scent described as soft floral with a hint of green.

Peonies at home

Cut peonies are a wonderful way to bring scent into your home as they’re not particularly overpowering. Try to keep them away from direct sunlight, and get ready to come home to the most delicious fragrance.

Different varieties of peonies have different scents

In general (there are exceptions to this rule), the white and pink double peonies varieties have the strongest fragrance, with other varieties like red, coral or single petalled blooms having barely any scent at all – or even having a very slightly unpleasant fragrance. This can possibly be put down to breeding, as scent is a recessive (and highly complicated gene), and can easily be compromised as breeders try to create new colours and varieties.

 Locally, the most commonly prized peonies for fragrance are the pink Sarah Bernhardt or Marguerite Gerard varieties, which we are shipping all season.

If your only experience of peonies is via a screen, you’re missing out! Despite numerous attempts to capture the exact magic of peonies in a fragrance, this alluring bloom seems to have alluded most scientists. Peonies can’t be dried and their volatile oils quickly dissipate, so many perfumes and home fragrances are synthetically produced. Consensus is that the lightness and subtlety of fresh peonies usually gives way to a “cheap” or “granny” scent in synthetic fragrances. Personally, I can’t comment as I’ve never come across a pure peony fragrance myself. But I can understand the desire to have a peony fragrance on hand, particularly as it can be so dang nostalgic – you remember every peony experience you have.

In short, when it comes to peonies, you need to sniff out your own favourites based on what you can get around you. I promise you won’t be disappointed. 

Want to order your own stems from the source? We are shipping all season!

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2021-11-16T05:48:22+11:00

About the Author:

Philomena is the founder of Bloombox Co, occasional hatmaker and pickle aficionado. She lives in Melbourne where she works to get locally grown flowers into homes and businesses.