Peonies, garden roses, dahlias, ranunculus: the lavish, romantic look of garden flowers that open wide to reveal an abundance of perfect petals is more in demand than ever, especially for weddings.
For designers, however, it’s not always easy to know which of these flowers, or in what combination, will serve best to create the look they want—at the right season and the right price.
Peonies, in particular, are having a moment in the spotlight. Let’s take a look at peonies and garden roses and how to use either, or both, in wedding bouquets and décor.
Ins and Outs
The first thing to know is that peonies are always field-grown (to bloom, the peony plant requires a cold period). Garden roses of the type used for weddings, on the other hand, are cultivated in greenhouses. That means peonies are a seasonal crop, while garden roses are available (with consistent quality) year-round.
In North America the peony season starts in the South, in April, and moves northward along with warming temperatures, from one growing area to the next. In recent years peonies from Alaska have extended the season to July, August and September, albeit in very limited quantities. Fall and winter peonies must be shipped from farther away in the Southern hemisphere—usually from Chile or New Zealand.
Garden roses from Alexandra Farms are grown in Colombia, near the equator, so that sunlight and temperature stay roughly the same year-round. Availability and price are likewise quite stable, with relatively minor fluctuations. That reliable consistency is especially helpful when you’re working out a budget and order list months in advance.
Peonies and garden roses do have a similar form and open in a similar way. Certain garden rose varieties, in particular, offer a cupped shape that resembles a peony. “Often I have brides that mix them up,” says Christi Lopez AIFD, CFD, EMC, of Bergerons Flowers in Springfield, Virginia. “They see a peony and think it’s a rose.”
Both are large blooms that open wide in a vase or in a bouquet. Peonies, especially peonies from Alaska, can reach nine inches across, thanks to colder temps and longer growing times. Chilly nights in the high Andes have a similar effect on roses grown in Colombia and Ecuador.
Sometimes bigger is better—and sometimes not, says Southern California-based designer Ania Norwood AIFD, CFD, CCF, EMC. The flower should be in proportion to the scale of the arrangement or bouquet, she notes.
If the bride is of smaller stature—or if she simply wants a smaller bouquet in line with current trends—wide-open peonies can throw off the scale. “I love to use peonies in a larger arrangement,” where they have impact when seen from a distance, says Ania.
Christi, likewise, finds that peonies and garden roses are good choices for an arch or chuppah. “I like to combine peonies, garden roses and ranunculus together in the same event,” says Christi. “That way I have all three sizes across the same color palette, which can take me from large-scale to intimate.”
Palette and Perfume
Both peonies and garden roses come in a range of colors popular for weddings. The palette available with garden roses, however, may be wider and more nuanced, Christi observes.
Close up, the blended tints of garden roses tend to yield an effect of subtlety and delicacy. Peony colors often make more of an impact from a distance.
And for the bride who loves fragrance, garden roses are a must. “Scent is coveted in today’s floral designs,” Christi notes. True, some clients prefer to avoid scent, in which case peonies or garden-rose varieties lacking intense fragrance are both options.
The Timeline of Performance
“I enjoy the lasting ability of garden roses,” says Christi. “What I’ve noticed when I work with Alexandra Farms varieties, because I get them in every week, is that they hold up really well, even in everyday retail design, which I think most florists aren’t recognizing, because they’re thinking just for weddings.”
The best cut-stage for garden roses depends on the variety, but generally they are cut and shipped slightly open. With the right varieties and treatment, they will then open fully and reliably within a few days after they are received. With proper care, the open blooms are bred to hold at that stage.
Peonies are cut and shipped in a bud stage. Arriving as tight round buds, they can sometimes fail to open, depending on the season and the supplier. The timing has to be perfect, since the open flower is not likely to last as long at that stage as a garden rose. Peonies can be prone to shattering, notes Ania.
And All the Rest
Both peonies and garden roses tend to have sturdy stems. For certain types of design, however, Ania appreciates that garden rose stems are not as thick as peony stems and can be more flexible, she says.
“I will often use the foliage of a garden rose in the design,” Christi adds, noting that the foliage on roses from Alexandra Farms comes in clean, not sprayed with pesticides, which makes it easy to use.
“If a bride asks for peonies at a time when they are expensive or difficult to obtain, an open garden rose is the perfect substitute,” Christi continues. “But I love to use them together as well. It’s not always an ‘either/or;’ it may be an ‘in addition to.’”
Here are just a few garden roses from Alexandra Farms with that cupped, rounded peony shape, grouped by color:
White: White Cloud, Eugenie (Ausimage) | Red: Tess (Ausyacht)
Dark Pink: Yves Piaget, Princess Meiko (Prosperous)
Medium Pink / Orange: Princess Suki (Loved One)
Light Pink: Miranda (Ausimmon), Tsumugi, Princess Hitomi (Beautiful History)
Peach: Princess Sakura (Cherry Blossom), Princess Aiko (Beloved), Edith (Auspluto)
Pink / Peach: Princess Charlene of Monaco