New homeowner's peonies smell like a cat's litter box
Gardening Q&A

New homeowner's peonies smell like a cat's litter box

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Pink peonies

Q • I have beautiful peonies in my garden from a previous home owner. My question is why do they smell like a cat’s litter box? I have a co-worker whose peonies smell heavenly. Do I need some type of mineral or fertilizer?

A • Fragrance is an inherited genetic trait. There are hundreds of different peony varieties. Just like every peony flower does not have the same appearance and color, so too does perceived fragrance vary from variety to variety. Let’s not forget that the perception of fragrance also varies from person to person as well. In other words, fragrance is in the nose of the beholder.

The cultivar ‘Festivus Maxima’ is an heirloom peony that has been almost universally acclaimed by generations for its outstandingly pleasant fragrance. Ask your co-worker what cultivar of peony they are growing. If they know its name, then you could search for a source of that particular variety to plant in your own home garden. The American Peony Society’s Vendor List is a good place to start, if you can’t find a particular cultivar locally, try

Write to Chip Tynan of the Missouri Botanical Garden at or Horticultural Answer Service, 4344 Shaw Boulevard, St. Louis, 63110

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