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

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Spring Flowering Itoh Peonies, Better Than Ever.

Itoh Peony, Kopper KettleIf The Disney Studios could have created a flower worthy of fairy-tale magic, it might have been an Itoh peony. Its surreal vivid color, perfectly contoured plant shape, and synthetic looking, sensuous and smooth petal-texture all belong on the storyboard of the most imaginative artist.

Its powerful visual impact defies descriptive language while the camera only taunts the viewer as did stripper Miss Gypsy Rose Lee who revealed little while stimulating the imagination.

Like many items that are too good to be true, the visceral experience that defines the Itoh peony comes with a hefty price tag. This reliable perennial belongs to a group of expensive plants. I was mandated to include it in a project earmarked with a generous budget, for a homeowner who wanted traffic-stopping drama in her flowerbeds.

Itoh Peony, BartzellaWhen the Itoh bloomed and I witnessed my client’s over-the-top emotional reaction to the yellow Itoh variety named Bartzella, I understood its potential and proceeded to test-grow several other varieties in my garden.

The plant that I selected for my client was ripe with many buds restless to unfold had a retail price tag of $75. A smaller sized version was available at $35 but it sported few buds.

Both of these high price points made this perennial an unsuitable candidate for test growing and I postponed doing so until I located a wholesaler who offered one-year-old varieties at an affordable cost.

Itoh Peony, Morning LilacBaby Itoh peonies are excruciatingly painful teases. In the first year of growth, they may or may not deliver flower buds. If they do, one or two impressive blooms are all that one can expect. Year two is less painful and in year three they are rich with bloom.

There is an irony to test growing Itoh peonies before including them in work projects.  By the time one is satisfied with their color and performance, the wholesalers in my area no longer carry the specific impressive variety that I want to rebuy.

In my location, Itoh’s high cost restricts its sale to a small group of gardeners who are unlikely to return to buy more of the same. So bowled over are they by the spectacular nature of its flowers, that by the following season these plant lovers are prepared to experiment with, and be surprised by, any new variety. They are, in fact, gardeners who collect exotic plants.

Itoh Peony, Kopper Kettle, If I want to include a tested and proven Itoh in a future project, I will have to learn how to propagate them on my own. That educational experience has just begun. A few weeks ago, I dug up one side of an Itoh root ball, sawed off a portion of its dense, woody core and transplanted it into my test garden. Like other peonies, I anticipate that the foliage will traumatize, turn brown, wilt away, and return next season as a fresh offspring. If I am successful, it will have been worth the effort.

Update 2014 : I was not successful in propagating this plant.

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Reader Comments (6)

Wow, those Itoh Peonies look sensational. I particularly like Bartzella, I will easily remember this one, just need to think of jane fonda as barbarella.

June 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlistair

I always find it odd and amusing that some homeowners, who have no problem dropping hundreds of dollars on a kitchen faucet, have a very difficult time wrapping their heads around spending the same on long-lived and low maintenance perennials like these Itohs.

They see better value in a row of big box store Emerald cedars?

June 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul at Garden Muses

You have drawn our attention to an aspect of human nature that few garden writers have explored. Large sums of money are eagerly invested in hardware, garden structures, and cedar hedges but little, if any at all, are allocated to flowering plants.

June 15, 2013 | Registered CommenterAllan

Wow!! Love the colors. I've been nursing a neglected peony at my new house for a couple years and would love to give it a couple Itohs as neighbors.

June 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDiane C

Allan, these are gorgeous peonies. I have never heard of this variety will definitely have to look them up.


These itoh peonies are stunning! The colours are so attractive - yes, Disney should look into these because they are simply beautiful. Wonderful additions to the garden.

January 27, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterELLandscapers

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