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Entries in peony (3)


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.


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.


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.