Monday, April 23, 2012

It's Tree Peony Season - A Month Early!

2011 Van Wert Peony Festival Queen and her Court
If you're a gardener living in my little corner of northwest Ohio, chances are you've got a peony or two (or three, or four...) in your garden. This is because nearby Van Wert used to be known as The Peony Capital of the World. There once were numerous peony farms here and though it's not quite the celebration it used to be, every year they celebrate by holding the Peony Festival the first weekend in June.

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
in 2010.
Peonies will live a very long time - 100 years, even - if you allow them to remain undisturbed. Though I've successfully transplanted several peonies, they really don't like being moved. Two years ago, I had to move a tree peony to make room for the conservatory and the following summer, I didn't think it was going to make it. It looked so pathetic, but this spring, it has bounced back and I think next year it may start blooming again.

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:

Peony's Envy
Cricket Hill
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)
Reath's Nursery

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.

Thank you to fellow tree peony lovers who graciously shared their images with me for this post:  Christina Salwitz of Personal Garden Coach, Barbara Pintozzi of Mr. McGregor's Daughter, garden writer Betty Earl, and longtime friend Shelley Adam of My Heart Seeks Him.


Tatyana@MySecretGarden said...

Kylee, I enjoyed reading your words and looking at these beautiful pictures. You are so right, this ia a very special plant! I have only one in my garden, and I treasure it.

Helen said...

I'm weak in the knees! Love peonies of all sorts, but can't grow them in my small, dry, shady garden. And I've tried. If that unidentified tree peony is in your garden, you should probably call it 'Kylee'!

Lisa at Greenbow said...

I agree that tree peonies are the most beautiful when blooming but I think they are the most disappointing. The simple reason is because their blooms are so short lived. It seems that they open and a rain comes along and immediately dash the blooms to the ground or they hang there like wet tissues. I would much rather have the herbaceous plants. They aren't near as finicky.

Unknown said...

Such a nice post:) My peonies are about to burst here at WDWS! Also, I see someone I know well on the Queen's float:)

Janet's House said...

Gorgeous! My tree peony is just now blooming...a treat every spring!

Janet Brown said...

Gorgeous! My tree peonies are just beginning to bloom. Love them!

Kylee Baumle said...

Tatyana ~ Hi, Tatyana! Which one do you have? I really love these plants!

Helen ~ Ha! I don't currently call it anything. I always like to know what I've got in my garden, but this is one that I just sit back and enjoy. :-)

Lisa ~ I hear what you're saying, but I don't find them to be too much more difficult than the herbaceous ones. They aren't nearly as fussy about planting depth (in regard to blooming). But yes, a heavy rain can ruin their appearance until they dry out. The herbaceous peonies keep longer in the vase, I've found. But I love those tissue paper petals and their gigantic size. I like the foliage better, although I really like both. I'm happy to have both in my gardens!

Penny ~ Who would that be, Penny? ;-)

Janet ~ Which one do you have, Janet? Really, everyone should have at least one! :-)

Fishtail Cottage said...

gorgeous post! i host a garden party on Thursday's (starts up again May 3rd) would love to have you link up sometime?

RobinL said...

Okay, so I see that I now need a tree peony! My transplanted peonies are soon to bloom for the first time since being planted three years ago, so I am thrilled. But guess what? Leaving on vacation in the morning! I'm going to miss them! I hate when that happens.

Kylee Baumle said...

Tracie ~ I'll check it out! I'm going to be out of town until that date, starting today, but maybe another month?

Robin ~ Yes, you DO need one! I know what you mean about being gone with things bloom. I think I'm going to miss my orange iris this week. I left a camera for my hubby to take photos in case it's not still in bloom when I get back on Thursday.

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