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.