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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

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A Mystery Itoh Peony: One Plant, Many Shades.

The family of Itoh Peonies, originally bred in Japan, captured my heart the first time I saw it online. Details posted by retail nurseries informed me that this showy perennial was pricey. Yet, I planted it in the flowerbed of a client who requested a razzmatazz look for her garden and wasn't concerned about cost. For that project, I had selected the yellow Itoh peony Bartzella; it turned out to be exactly what was wanted.

Her response to the plant was positive. She loved the vivid hues, the lush, dense petals and the enormous size of the flower. So passionate was her reaction -  it looked so spectacular in her garden - that I decided to purchase one for myself. Sadly, the trade discount that I received from the retailer did nothing to sooth the pain in my wallet caused by the plant’s high price tag. However, watching this magnificent perennial bloom soon helped me forget its cost.

The following season, when two local wholesalers began to stock Itohs at affordable prices, I decided to collect and test-grow several varieties. Since "we get what we pay for", the plants I ordered were small upon arrival and none flowered the first season. Now in their second year in my garden, all are budding out beautifully.

It was unfortunate that my assistants mixed up the identity tags of the four plants I received as I have difficulty identifying each one accurately. Matching my camera’s images with those of the online sellers is of no help in identifying them; the petals of some Itoh peonies are in such a constant state of tonal change, that the naming project has turned into a forensic exercise.

All the images posted here are of the same variety. [I do not know for certain if it is Kopper Kettle, Julia Rose, or Hillary.] The flower opens in one color, then continues to lighten, until a pastel, almost white, tone of its original color appears in the final stages of its life. Throughout its blooming period, each flower is continuously evolving from dark to light.For those who have the budget for it, the Itoh peony is a worthwhile investment. Its flowers are large and richly colored, and when in full bloom, the plant maintains a gracefully controlled and neat appearance. Unlike the herbaceous peony that flops over in the rain, the stems of the Itoh remain upright without staking. In addition, my clients report that the flowers are excellent for cutting. In order to appeal to as many gardeners as possible, some retail nurseries offer Itohs at several different price points, each reflecting a different age and size of plant.

This is a substantial perennial. When designing a flowerbed, one should keep in mind that the elegant, nearly-rounded form of the plant resembles a dwarf shrub, almost three feet in diameter. The dark green veined, glossy foliage is a perfect background for highlighting the vivid shades of its flowers and, after blooming, the plant makes an ideal background to showcase later-flowering perennials.

Selecting the right Itoh peony, might be a challenge for designers who insist upon very specific shades for their gardens. As described above, on the same plant, the bloom colors of some varieties transition from dark to light, at different intervals. As a result, the plant will appear to sport many different hued flowers at one and the same time. To assist gardeners with their research and advance selection, one online seller, Swenson Gardens, has found a way to demonstrate this tonal transformation by posting variable images of the same plant. When visiting their site, hover over each Itoh peony image to observe the color change.

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Reader Comments (5)

How beautiful, Allan! I really wish I had room in my tiny garden for such lovelies.

My Kopper Kettle has 3 blooms open right now from 20 buds this year. It's less pink than your photos. Actually I'm not sure that I like the color. I keep trying to convince myself that I love it since it cost so much, but I'm still having doubts. Oh well. I love my Keiko, which should bloom soon.

June 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVW

Va va voom! Hello, gorgeous!

Our peonies have been done for almost a month now, and reading this post, I have nostalgia.

June 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterThomas Rainer

Hi Allan;
I have one of these peonies in bloom at the moment.It's very pretty but one of the flowers is totally diiferent.It has a visible line down the middle and one half is a lemon yellow colour and the other half is deep purplish red.All the other flowers on the plant are like yours.

June 10, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterglenna

we love peonies. However, our's have gotten so large they are having to be staked where they are planted.If your having problems with your's growing, I got the answer (or at least for our's).We have an aged pile of chicken compost and my husband put a scoop around the peonies (10-12" away from the plants) and ever since then, they have grew to be jolly green giants. Enjoy your pics and your blog.

July 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commentertammy sons

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