May 17, 2012

Tree Peonies and New Itoh Hybrids

The magnificence of the noble true tree peony - the aristocratic and woodier cousin of the herbaceous peony, is not a tree at all, but is more of  a bush, at least they can be bush-like if you are lucky. Not the easiest to grow well in New England, tree peonies are becoming more popular with gardeners who are in-the-know, those who find that perfect little nook or protected area in Zone 5 or 6 where the winter snows are deep and protective, or where the cold winds of late winter and early spring spare these hardy, yet fussy jewels of the garden. Rarely does one see Tree Peonies grown to perfection unless you live in the Pacific North West or in zone 7 or higher, where winters are mild. Tree peonies are best grown seriously - and with effort, often in a garden dedicated solely to this plant, well mulched, weeded and especially, well protected in the winter. With some varieties dating back to the 12th Century, it is one of the oldest cultivated plants on our planet.

I have yet to find the perfect place for my tree peonies, but I keep trying. these plants were relocated last year to the open garden, since the location where they were originally ( near the foundation of the greenhouse) proved to be too shady in the summer, since I planted faster growing tropicals in front of them, like canna's, brugmansia and calocasia. Now planted in the open garden, the plants receive more sunlight and more open space, and finally they have bloomed.

In Japan we saw incredible collections of tree peonies in Tokyo, where entire gardens are dedicated to these plants, gardens that are hundreds of years old, for peonies are one of the oldest cultivated plants grown for their blossoms on earth, and after nearly 600 years of culture, the tree peony may have one of the most impressive family trees of all plants.

Setting tree peonies aside for the moment, the new Itoh Hybrids, a cross between the tree peony and the common herbaceous peony that we all know and love ( the sort that goes dormant with top growth the dies back to the ground every year - are the must-have plants of out century. Like all peonies, the Itohs still have large, flouncy flowers that come in many shades of buff and yellow, but their real magic comes with their performance. A tree peony may only have a few flowers unless they are well branched ( a rare site), but the Itoh's can have 20 or 30 flowers per plant, and their foliage may be their greatest asset of all - nicely dense and sometimes with a bluish tint, it always looks neat and tidy, so much so that I am seriously thinking about turning my gold and blue garden completely over to a fully dedicated Itoh Hybrid garden.


Itoh Hybrids are not for the slim-of-wallet, though, with most cultivars selling  between $80 to $300 per plant, remember that you do get what you pay for with these plants. These are impressive shrub-like specimens that are long lived, and get larger with every year in the garden. I've had people stop in their tracks in August, just by noticing their amazing foliage displays, and that's saying nothing about their blossoms - which as you can see in the images here, are pretty nice - like large, tissue paper flowers.
I can only afford one plant a year, but if you can find them ( they are starting to show up this year at better garden centers), they are worth their sticker price. Just be sure to plant them once - where they are going to live, and then enjoy for the rest of your life, as the plants grow larger, with increasingly more impressive displays, with each year of their lives. I have one plant from ten years ago that may have 50 flowers on it this year. And for a peony, that's pretty sweet ---- but did I mention that they are bright yellow? Oh yeah, baby.

1 comment :

  1. Surprisingly enough I have a few true tree peonies in my mom's garden in Minneapolis and they do magnificently with no protection what so ever. They really are amazing plants, I'm glad that they're finally starting to catch on here


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