The roots of the peony reach deep into the past. Peonies have been cultivated for hundreds of years in China and Europe. Originally grown for their medicinal qualities, peonies came to be valued for their lush beauty, which has inspired artists and poets for centuries.
One of the earliest peonies in western gardens was Paeonia officinalis from Europe, introduced before 1548 to Britain. This is the crimson peony that became common in gardens and often survived untended in old or abandoned gardens and homesteads.
Many fragrant garden forms of Paeonia lactiflora were introduced to Europe from China in the early 1800s. In the following decades of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century, new cultivars were developed in France and England by growers whose names are now famous, such as and Victor Lemoine and James Kelway.
As settlers came to North America from Europe in the early years of the 20th century, they brought their favorite plants with them, including the peonies that were much-loved in the Edwardian period before World War I.