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

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Entries in Kopper Kettle (2)


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.


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.