'Sarah Bernhardt' Peony

Add this tried-and-true peony favorite to your garden.
Early blooming peony

Early Flowering Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

'Sarah Bernhardt' is one of several very early-blooming peonies

Photo by: Image provided by Felder Rushing

Image provided by Felder Rushing

Looking for a classic peony? Check out the beautiful ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ peony. Introduced in 1906, this pink peony is world-famous in its own right, just like its namesake, the actress. ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ peony is beloved for its rich, full flowers that display a rose or bomb shape, according to peony classifications. Gardeners love it for its petal-packed blossoms with a light and heady fragrance.  

‘Sarah Bernhardt’ peony flowers open in mid-season. In peony lingo, that means they’re open just as mid-spring slides into the end of spring. Timing-wise, ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ peony blooms in concert with lavender (Lavandula), Siberian iris (Iris sibirica) and false indigo (Baptisia australis). The purple tones of these spring-flowering perennials look exquisite planted with the apple blossom pink blooms of ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ peony.

The one drawback to the full flower heads of ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ peony is that they’re almost too big. Stems can manage to hoist them off the ground, but often maintain a bowed posture as the flower opens fully and achieves maximum weight. Add spring rains to the scene, and wet flowers quickly weigh down stems until blossoms drag on the ground.  

This is a peony that needs staked. Many gardeners report that the heavy, wet flowers prove too much for simple grow-through stakes, and occasionally stems snap. Consider using a homemade cage-type stake using some type of fencing to help keep stems upright.  

In the garden, expect a mature ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ peony to grow 24 to 30 inches tall and wide. This peony makes a great addition to shrubbery foundation plantings and can be planted along a path or walk to form a spring floral allee. Tuck a shrub or two into a perennial border for a pop of gentle spring pink, or mass two or three of these peonies together for a shrub-like appearance.  

Like all peonies, ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ grows best in a full sun setting, although it benefits from shade when the afternoon sun is hottest. Enrich soil prior to planting with ample organic matter. Peonies don’t typically need moved or divided for many years, so you want to tuck them into an ideal setting from the start.  

Plant bareroot ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ in early fall. This gives plants plenty of time to develop a healthy root system prior to winter’s arrival. The first spring after planting, you can expect to see a few stems that grow maybe 6 inches tall. A few flowers may appear—or not.  It’s the second spring after planting that growth starts to take off. You should see more stems and flowers. By the third spring, your ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ peony should be hitting its stride, producing many flowers and stems.  

Cut the blooms of ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ peony to enjoy fresh in a vase. This peony has earned distinction as one of the best peonies for drying. To dry peony flowers, simply hang stems upside down in a cool, dark place. Don’t bundle more than three stems together, and it’s a good idea to stagger flower heads in the bundle so they’re not touching during the drying period.

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