June 17, 2012

The Tree Peony and rock garden peony flowers have finished. Now is the time for the glorious show of the rest of the peony family. Like all peony lovers, we wish they would last all summer, but alas they don't. However you can still extend the season by choosing kinds that bloom later, and the familiar herbaceous peony has many different flower forms and colours and, depending on the variety, different blooming times. So a careful choice of early, mid season and late can give you a long and lovely show.

There is yet another, lesser-known type of peony that is a fabulous addition to the peony palette - the Itoh hybrid peonies.

These rare and choice hybrid peonies are the result of a lifetime of work of the late Toichi Itoh, who over 50 years ago managed to successfully cross a Tree Peony with an herbaceous peony; this had not been achieved before. Since then there have been numerous introductions but "Itohs" are still relatively unknown to gardeners. They combine the large, elegant flowers and colours of the Tree Peony with the hardiness and easy cultivation of herbaceous peonies. Like their herbaceous parent they die back to the ground each year.

Why some peonies fall over The old, double-flowered varieties usually have long, slender stems and heavy heads. Few people know that peonies were once the number one cut flower in North America. They didn't require refrigeration and would keep for many days without water. I confess I didn't believe this until I was involved in a peony presentation with my friend John Elsley, a world-renowned plant authority. He arrived with a box of peony stems that had been cut 3 days earlier. The buds weren't open but showed a tiny bit of colour. He recut the stems, placed them in water and low and behold they opened over 2 hours looking as if they'd just been freshly cut! The demand for these fragrant, big flowers on long stems was huge. Entire nurseries were devoted to the production of cut flower peonies. But the varieties were selected for their cut flower potential NOT for their garden performance. Their tendency to fall over didn't matter. When their cut flower popularity faded with the advent of refrigeration, nurseries began to sell the plants instead. Many of these old varieties are still sold today and yes, they still fall over. Like the automobile, peonies have been improved since 1900. Countless hours have been spent by hybridizers to improve the flowers, plant forms and length of bloom. Once you've seen a newer peony, the results are obvious. Not only are they different, they're available in an incredible range of colours and heights and best of all, most don't flop. Fall is the best time to plant peonies. We ship freshly dug, 3 - 5 eye field grown divisions beginning in October. Reserve your plants now.

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