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

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Entries in Itoh peony (4)


Itoh Peonies, Beet Soup, and Bold Colored Gardens.

The supplier's catalogue labeled this color Lavender Pink. It looks darker and richer in my garden. My eyes tell me that it's Purple.In my quest for knowledge about Japanese peonies, I planted several introductory-sized varieties in my test garden to see how they would perform; I wanted to determine if they might be suitable for my clients. One variety that disappointed me was Itoh peony Morning Lilac; it flowered in the color of beet soup instead of the lavender-pink tones depicted in the supplier’s catalogue.

A trade photo similar to the one in my supplier's catalogue.The saturation of its color was too deep. No perennial growing nearby is that vivid or rich; a situation that made the new plant stand out for its boldness. Allowing it to remain in my garden would disturb the color theme that I labored for so many years to develop.

However, on the day set aside to dig it out for discard, the flower opened fully. That is when noticed how dramatically its rich, gold stamens contrasted with the petal coloration. At that moment, I cancelled my plans to administer capital punishment. This peony didn’t deserve the compost heap; all it needed was an appropriate home. I have a colleague who likes rich colors and I am certain that she will appreciate this plant more than I do.

Don’t be deceived by the color of the twin peonies in the photo immediately above this paragraph. The camera captured a shade of purple, just a little bit closer to the soft tones depicted in the catalogue, but unlike the deep bold tones I actually saw in my garden in blazing sunlight. Sometimes cameras produce images that are unreal. So do suppliers' catalogues! Next season, I intend to order Itoh peony First Arrival. Perhaps that one will produce a more accurate  lavender-pink flower.

Regal colors can work well in a flowerbed when they are combined with others of similar saturation. That will create a balance appreciated by all, even if the bold colors themselves are not.

Readers will find a relevant and passionate discussion about hot colored flowers written by Sarah Raven, in The Bold and Beautiful Garden. Find my review of this well-received publication here and look for the book in the far right column, at the top of this blog page, under the heading Book You Need: 12 favorites.


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.


Peony Bartzella; Bringing New Meaning to Perennials That 'Wow'

What is a superlative plant?  A superlative plant is one that overwhelms both the senses and emotions.

Among those that meet this criterion is Paeonia Itoh Bartzella. It demonstrates clean architectural beauty in its flower and perfect pitch lemon yellow color in petals that glow in sunlight.

I knew when I met the client that she would respond well to superlative plants, and she did. When she sees them in bloom, she swoons. Please do not ask how I knew that certain plants would have this effect on her. I just knew; it is my responsibility to discover these facts about my clients and it's always a gut feeling.

When I visited her this week to attend to a plant that was misbehaving, she rushed outdoors to greet me with  “Allan, your killing me! That plant [referring to Paeonia Itoh Bartzella] is tugging at my heart and the pleasure is unbearable!.” Two weeks ago, she had reacted similarly to Papaver orientale Turkenlouis.

About the same time that I planted Bartzella in her garden, I also planted one for myself. Mine bloomed yesterday for the very first time and it‘s beauty overwhelmed me in much the same way that it overwhelmed my client. Perennial gardeners fantasize about such an experience - the kind that consumes the gardener with passion, joy, and excitement, all at the same time. Bartzella has large dramatic, sculptural blooms in a shade of yellow usually found only in animated cinema. The most excitingly aspect of this plant is that it grows magnificently in gardens that are within arms reach and not only on the pages of a book or magazine. Its blooms are able to project over long distances because of the synergy of shape, color, and size. For the perennial gardener, life doesn’t get any better than that, as the colloquial saying goes.

This past weekend was supposed to be a time for rest. I needed to recover from the 12-hour days I had been logging by planting gardens and interviewing prospective clients. However, when I got up Saturday morning and saw Bartzella in bloom, I understood that it was critical that I immediately drive out of town to my favorite grower in order to pick up another such plant for a new project.

I am in the midst of planting a flower garden for a client who, with her husband, is touched by the beauty of flowering plants. He responds well to clean Zen-like lines and she prefers the lushness and messiness of the English. Bartzella will offer both of them the pleasure they seek. I cannot imagine their new garden without it. The Bartzella I selected has buds that are poised to open in a few days. That is when the client will experience the genius of Mr.Itoh. This talented breeder was responsible for giving us the peony that bears his name, a plant that answers almost every flower gardener’s prayer.


Thank You, Mr. Itoh for 'Flowers That Rock'!

This is Itoh peony "First Arrival". Flowers grow 6 to 8 inches across, on a mound 26 to 30 inches high. Photo courtesy of Wayside Gardens. Click on the image to visit their site.It doesn’t happen very often, but once in a while we are treated to a plant that exceeds our expectations. It’s almost as if the plant hybridizer had climbed inside our heads to find out what kind of flower we dreamt about, certain that it did not exist, but wishing that it would.

The Itoh peony, created by Mr. Toichi Itoh of Japan in the 1948, is a stunning plant that is a hybrid of the tender Tree Peony and the hardy, herbaceous, ordinary peony. This is a vigorous, long lived perennial that is easy to grow in sun or part shade, in zones 4a to 8b. The plant is domed-shaped, ranging from 30 to 45 inches in height and features very large, vibrant-colored blooms, measuring 8 inches across. Its size, shape and colors allow the gardener to grow several as lawn specimens or to blend a single one into a flower bed composition. While the ordinary peony blooms May to June, the Itoh peony blooms July to August, giving us about 6 to 8 weeks of  peonies.

Once established, an Itoh peony can produce up to 50 blooms in one season. Even though the flowers are huge, they require no staking because they have inherited the strong stems of the Tree peony. In addition, this plant supplies excellent cut flowers. When harvesting, cut blooms anytime after the buds are soft [like a fresh marshmallow], leaving the lowest branch stems on the plant as bases for next year’s growth. As with the ordinary peony, cut no more than 1/3 of the blooms so that the plant has enough leaves to manufacture nourishment for next year. Cut flowers that are placed in water immediately will last for a week, if not longer. And again, like the ordinary peony, Itoh goes dormant; it dies back in autumn and reappears next season.

Up until recently, this plant has been unaffordable for most gardeners due to its high cost. In the late 1980’s, it was not unusual to pay up to $1000 for a single plant because of the difficulties associated with propagation. Five years ago, a groundbreaking propagation technique was developed here in Quebec and that shrunk the price, worldwide, to about $100. This past year, that price has been halved to $50, making it even more affordable. If your nursery is still charging last year’s high prices, shop elsewhere. Many on line suppliers have already advertised lower prices for this year.