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

See website, design work and favorite flowering plants at  gardengurumontreal.ca

Consultation and coaching for do-it-yourselfers is provided. Occasional emailed questions are welcome and answered free of charge. Oui, je parle francais.

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Saturday
May302015

Itoh Peonies Are Not Easy to Find

Pictured above is Itoh peony Morning Lilac. It remained modest in growth and appearance during the previous four years and only this season has it merited the attribute “spectacular”. For this impatient gardener, four years was a very long time to wait.

Itohs are sturdy perennials that are impossible to dig up once planted; consequently, they defy multiplication by root splitting. Industrial growers here in Quebec employ tissue culture propagation to create new plants. Then the seedings are sold to growers who nurture them until they are ready for market. The gestation time from initial lab procreation to spectacular flowering takes years. Perhaps that accounts for the extremely high price tag for mature Itohs at both wholesale and retail sellers.

The Itoh family of peonies produces theatrically bold, oversized flower heads that do not require staking even in heavy rain. It feels like a gift from the gods that a plant which blooms in vivid tropical colors should survive so successfully in our cold climate.

Meanwhile, a magnificent garden design project is underway here in Montreal. A private park, where I once created flamboyant flowerbeds that blend English style perennials with bold colored winter- compatible roses, is being expanded.

The owner has allocated a generous budget that permits me to source any plants I deem appropriate. His love of flower gardens inspires me to plant Itoh peonies. Alas, they are not easy to find.

Two of the wholesalers upon whom I rely no longer carry them. A local upscale nursery retailer stocks a meager variety in small sizes that will not bloom for another two years. Growers situated in rural parts of the country sell them ready to bloom  but I must lose a day of designing and planting to source them.

Now that Itohs are just beginning to bloom, I have a strong desire to share the joy of this dramatic perennial with the client for he is as passionate about flowers as I am. Perhaps I will give up the rest that my body sorely needs this weekend to take a long drive out to the countryside where Itohs are available. Such a client deserves the extra service. The body will have to wait.

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Reader Comments (4)

I have three Itoh peonies, paid through the nose for them, and I'm not sure they were worth the price. 'Kopper Kettle' has beautifully colored blooms that fade rapidly in the sun to a sickly cream color, though they flowers hold their color nicely if cut and brought inside. 'Keiko' is a pretty pink but also fades. I do have an unnamed magenta Itoh that doesn't fade and is completely stunning. Your 'Morning Lilac' is also gorgeous. Many people adore yellow 'Bartzella,' so I guess you just need to be cautious about which variety you purchase (after selling your first born child to raise the large sum needed!), as some are better than others.

June 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterVW

VW: I agree with you that some color transformations are not as pleasing as others. For that reason,before buying either online or at the nursery, I Google a variety's name to find images at various stages of bloom. That way, I reduce the likelihood of disappointment. Bartzella is by far the most successful of all the Itohs. The blooms are huge and monochrome and hold color uniformly throughout the season.
Allan

June 2, 2015 | Registered CommenterAllan

I grow peonies as much for the fragrance as for their looks; how does the fragrance on these compare with the standard (less expensive) peonies?

June 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJean

Jean, the less expensive peonies are far more fragrant. The Itohs are grown more for their dramatic appearance than for their delicate aroma.
Allan

June 2, 2015 | Registered CommenterAllan

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