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

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Entries in large flowers (2)


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.


There's Mammoth Pleasure to be Had from Chrysanthemum "Mammoth"

What thrills a gardener most is to see a perennial in bloom exactly the way it appeared on the photo tag, that was attached to the plant at point of sale. The thrill is even greater when the perennial performs according to the media publicity that first brought it to gardeners’ attention.

I experienced that delightful, satisfying feeling last summer when the three Chrysanthemum Mammoth varieties I planted - only two months before - began to bloom. These perennials delivered almost everything the publicity promised.

My experience with the chrysanthemum family - before it was subdivided into new, unpronounceable family names, such as Dendrathema, Leucanthemum , and Chysanthemum -  had not been newsworthy. Dendrathema Clara Curtis, with vivid warm pink flowers that are exciting enough to stop traffic, sprawls too much for an urban garden, where a flowerbed must appear neat at all times. It broke my heart to dig it up and throw it on the compost heap. Not even the neighbors wanted such an unruly plant.

Similarly, Leucanthmum varieties, also known as daisies, need staking and the stigma this family of plants carries is regrettable. Some gardeners believe that a daisy is a wild flower or weed and that there is no place for it in the formal garden. Others, like me, accept the flower for what it is, an attractive perennial with a short life that cheers up any flowerbed. Since we unknowingly grow other flowers that were once considered weeds, why single this one out for prejudice? Besides, in naturalized meadow gardens, this plant grows carefree.

Finally, there are the well-known autumn chrysan - themums. I still haven’t figured out if they are now labeled Dendrathema or not; but it doesn’t matter much because most cannot overwinter here in USDA Zone 4b. In my climate, we buy them in September as blooming throwaway plants to decorate the garden until Halloween, when the night frost kisses them goodbye.

I became excited when I read about the introduction of a new Chrysanthemum cultivar, labeled Mammoth. It was hailed as neat and majestic, and was touted to overwinter in my climate. The hype was almost too good to be true. It promised not to be messy. It isn’t messy. It promised to grow into a large neat mound paved with flowers that completely hide the foliage. It did. It promised not to require staking. It is carefree. It promised large flowers. They were. No pinching, no pruning, and no dead heading required. Yes, Yes, and Yes!  A dense dome of color? Wow, was it ever. Overwinters in USDA 4b? We shall see, after the snow melts. Blooms for more than a month in August, September and October? Well, not quite; at least not last season.

The one-gallon plants I received were too lush when they arrived in May. That’s always a bad sign for an autumn-flowering plant. The pumped-up appearance indicated they were fed too much fertilizer to make them attractive, an action that usually results in perennials with a shortened life cycle in the first year of growth. My Mammoths bloomed too early and faded before their designated time. This coming season, they will have a natural life cycle undisturbed by excessive nutrients. Then, I hope they will provide the three months of bloom promised by the promotional hype.

The interesting characteristic about this plant is that not all varieties bloomed equally attractive. The supplier offered five: - Coral, Dark Pink, Lavender, Yellow Quill, and Matchsticks, [yellow quill with a fluted red tip].

Chrysanthemum Mammoth Coral, a trade photo.I reluctantly vetoed Coral because the supplier flagged it as the only one requiring dead heading. Therefore I can report nothing about it.

Chrysanthemum Mammoth Lavender. a trade photo I nixed Lavender because there are many similar lavender colored asters in the garden that bloom in fall. I cannot comment on this variety.

Chrysanthemum Mammoth Yellow Quill, a trade photo.Yellow Quill bloomed true to hype but not worthy of mention, at least not in the first season. I expect that, when it and the others reach a mature mound height of just below three feet, they will make quite an impression – even on those who dislike yellow flowers. However, I will not be a fan of this plant. The yellow quill-shaped petals are too scrawny for my liking; furthermore, they do not remain front-facing all day long, even when planted with a southern exposure  

Chrysanthemum Mammoth Dark Pink, a trade photoThe Dark Pink variety was magnificent. Its petals were so perfect in bloom that they hardly look real. The image above, while supplied by the trade, is an accurate replica of what I saw growing in my flowerbed. A digital dream factory could not have made them appear more beautiful. In addition, the petal color is so versatile; it blends well into most English style gardens.

C.Mammoth Dark Pink, from my garden.I was unable to photograph my own plants when they were at their best due to recurring, heavy rain storms. However, the image above, taken in my garden, shows the Dark Pink variety, just past its peak, as it is entering the last stages of its bloom cycle.

Chrysanthemum Mammoth Matchsticks, a trade photoMatchsticks, however, was my biggest disappointment. When nature combines red and yellow on one petal, the results can be harsh. Add to this visual uneasiness a flower whose petals are partly quilled and partly fluted and the result is chaos. Even though the bloom pictured above appears tame, multipy that image by hundreds and the result may be unpleasant. All together, this variety appeared unattractive in the flowerbed; and its visual energy was too high. Its frenetic appearance made me uncomfortable.

Furthermore, like Yellow Quill, Matchsticks is sensitive to the path of the sun; in the afternoon, it turned away from view. That only worsened the plants appearance. I expect that I will have to remove it from my flowerbed because not only is it disturbing to see but it also disrupts the serenity of the surrounding plants. In all fairness though, most garden writers have been delighted with Matchsticks bold and aggressive performance, so I suspect that I am the lone voice to reject it.

Now, the only characteristic that remains to be confirmed is whether my favorite, the Dark Pink variety, will propagate as easily as Clara Curtis does. With Clara, one only has to lift up one side of the plant, to remove an easily accessible root shoot. Then, the mother plant is repositioned easily into the soil and the cutting, now a new infant perennial, is transplanted. I can hardly wait for spring to determine if Mammoth Dark Pink will give up offspring as easily. I hope it will cooperate because I’d like several more for my garden – it’s that beautiful.