Peonies (Paeonia) live a very long time. Once they are happy they will bloom reliably every year. They do not like to be bothered once established so the goal is to create a more permanent planting plan. When deciding what to plant with your peonies, choose plants that will also remain awhile. Peonies have a formal appearance and do well in front yard plantings. The foliage emerges in the spring and the flowers bloom in early summer.
Dark glossy leaved shrubs go well with peonies. Since peonies die back in winter it is a good idea to place evergreen plant material around them. Japanese aucuba (Aucuba serratufolia) is a 5- to 6-foot shrub that has similar serrated foliage. Camellia flowers blend well with the large flower heads of peony. Camellias also remain evergreen providing nearby structure. Roses also have flowers that compliment peonies. Roses are not good winter plants either so place them in the vicinity but not directly next to peonies. The roses will go on blooming beyond the peonies so it keeps the area interesting. Foliage texture matters too, escallonia has a similar pattern in the leaves. There are different sizes of escallonia ranging from 3 to 6 feet tall. Herbaceous peonies are about 3 feet tall and wide. The tree peonies also die back but leaves woody stems above the ground. Since they need to be cut back to viable wood they are not a lot taller. Design your garden around both types of peony in the same way.
Peonies take up a sizable amount of space when they fill out. When they die back in winter they can leave a sizable hole in the garden. Planting low growing evergreen ground-covers around them will help. Wild ginger (Asarum) has heart-shaped evergreen leaves and exotic purple flowers. Ginger is delicate and elegant so it compliments the glossy peony foliage, but will not in interfere with the peonies root space. Star jasmine looks nice twining through peonies but would eventually overpower them. Instead grow a smaller version of hardy jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum).
Bold foliage plants look good with peonies. Try using bears breech (Acanthus mollis) near peonies to add bold texture. Glossy-leaved ferns such as Korean rock fern (Polystichum tsus-simense), or Japanese tassel fern (Polystichum polyblepharum) are also good choices. Hellebores are a great match since they bloom before the peonies and need the same protection from afternoon sun. Helleborus is a large perennial but has the added benefit of evergreen foliage to compliment the peonies.
Bulbs with Peonies
To lengthen the bloom season, plant early bulbs around your peonies. Try scattering snow drops (Galanthus) around them. Snow drops multiply over time and are elegant little flowers. Use them in an all white garden with white peony, white daffodil and white tulips. In temperate regions add some white wake robin (Trillium).