Plants - Perennials

Peonies on parade

With careful planning, you can extend your enjoyment of garden peonies for up to seven weeks

Introducing new cultivars
“It takes at least 20 years from spotting a promising cross to being able to offer it in any quantity to the public,” says grower Lindsay D’Aoust, “so peony breeding is not for the impatient.” And even after that, it may take time for new selections to become widely known.

For example, several Canadian nurseries finally sell the in-demand intersectional hybrids (also known as Itoh hybrids), which are crosses between tree and herbaceous peonies, says D’Aoust. “One of the most popular of these is ‘Garden Treasure’, a gorgeous, fragrant, semi-double, yellow peony that has only recently become easily available, yet was first introduced more than 20 years ago.” ‘Bartzella’, a stunning double in luminous yellow, is another outstanding example in this category.

Other peonies gaining recognition are the hybrids of A.P. Saunders of Clinton, New York. “Saunders did his extensive hybridizing work in the first half of the last century, but his plants have really become very popular over the last few years,” says D’Aoust. These include ‘Cytherea’, a vivid pink semi-double; ‘Early Windflower’, with graceful single, white flowers; and ‘Grace Root’, a lovely salmon pink single.

“Gardeners are beginning to realize they can have real red peonies, real yellow peonies and ones that don’t need staking,” adds D’Aoust. “But peonies that bloom a good month before the traditional ones are a brand new discovery for most people.”

Popular peonies

Fern leaf peonies (Paeonia tenuifolia)
Hybrid cultivars: 'Little Red Gem', 'Laddie', 'Early Scout'
Attributes: Soft, almost needle-like foliage; single, red, early flowers grow to 40 cm tall. Foliage tends to go dormant earlier than most herbaceous peonies.

  • Uses: rock garden, front of border.
  • Zone 2
  • Do not need to be staked.

Herbaceous garden peonies (P. lactiflora and P. officinalis) hybrids and related species)
Attributes: Hybrids of Chinese and common peonies and related species. Widely available types; generally flower in the peak weeks of bloom.
  • Zone 2
  • Single blooms do not need to be staked
  • Japanese usually do not need to be staked
  • Semi-double need to be staked depending on the cultivar
  • Double usually need to be staked, especially cultivars with heavy flowers

Intersectional (ITOH) hybrids
Attributes: Often yield yellow-flowered cultivars (such as 'Garden Treasure' and 'Bartzella'), but other colours as well. Large, tree peony-like flowers on herbaceous, non-woody stems. Prune as for tree peony. Expensive, around $100 per plant.

  • Zone 3
  • Do not need to be staked 

Top photo: by Tracy Cox


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