|2011 Van Wert Peony Festival Queen and her Court|
Here, the peonies might not even be in the garden proper. There might be a strip of them along the edge of the property; that seems to have been a popular way to grow them here years ago, during the peony hey days. And when I say years, I mean years.
|Unidentified tree peony before the move |
When we arrived here at Our Little Acre back in 1977, there was a white herbaceous peony growing in the yard. For many years, it produced beautiful, big, fluffy white blooms. Then one year, it disappeared. That white peony stayed gone for many years and eventually, I planted a white lilac that a friend gave to me in its spot. The lilac grew well for many years.
But one summer, well past lilac season, I was mowing the yard and noticed from a distance that there was something white blooming at the bottom of the lilac shrub. A closer look revealed that the white peony had returned! That was sometime in the 1990s and every year we get blooms from both the lilac and the peony and have dubbed them the "peolac."
|Paeonia suffruticosa 'Sahohime' this year, with a total of 76 blooms!|
Tree peonies - Paeonia suffruticosa - are the first peonies to bloom in my gardens. They have woody stems and they branch like shrubs and trees, unlike their herbaceous cousins - Paeonia lactiflora - which have soft stems that shoot up from ground. Tree peonies don't die back to the ground each winter either. They form buds on the stems in the fall that remain until spring, when they swell and begin growing again, much like you see on some trees and shrubs.
|Paeonia suffruticosa 'Sahohime'|
|Unidentified Paeonia suffruticosa in my garden|
The blooms on tree peonies are generally a bit larger than the herbaceous bloom, and the petals have the appearance of tissue paper. The colors of some cultivars remind me of watercolors or the background of batik prints, with shadings of lighter to darker. They are a very special thing, as many gardeners have discovered.
|Paeonia suffruticosa 'Kokuryn-Nishiki' from the garden of Betty Earl|
|Paeonia suffruticosa 'Ofuji Nishiki' from the garden of Barbara Pintozzi|
|Paeonia suffruticosa 'Yagumo' from the garden of Shelley Adam|
Tree peonies provide some structure to the garden even after their spring blooms (usually May) and leaves are more glaucous (bluish) with a dull appearance rather than the green shiny foliage of herbaceous peonies. Slower growing than herbaceous peonies, they do best in dappled sunlight, although all of mine are in full sun. They're native to China and are hardy in Zones 4-9.
|Paeonia suffruticosa 'Shimanishiki' from the garden of Louise Hartwig|
|Paeonia suffruticosa, probably 'Snow Lotus'|
Another type of peony gaining in popularity is the intersectional peony, or Itoh hybrid (named for the man who began hybridizing them). This peony is a cross between a tree peony and an herbaceous peony and dies to the ground in winter, but the blooms are like those of tree peonies.
|Itoh hybrid peony 'Mikasa', from Christina Salwitz|
Online sources for tree peonies:
Forest Farm (Dave's Garden Watchdog Top 5 for Ornamental Trees & Shrubs and a Top 30 Company)
Romence Gardens and Greenhouses (Dave's Garden Watchdog Top 5 for Annuals)
|Tree peonies are highly fragrant, which no doubt attracts the bees! Better be|
careful when sticking your nose in these!
|Tree peony blooms make great cut flowers and will perfume an entire room.|