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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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Entries in Morning Lilac (3)

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.

Tuesday
Jun112013

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.

Tuesday
Jun192012

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.