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With their gorgeous lush petals and sweet fragrance that herald the start of summer, it's hard not to fall in love with Peonies! There are over thirty naturally-occurring species of peonies. These are all members of the genus Paeonia and thus genetically related. Read on to learn more about the history and varieties of peonies.
The people of China have nurtured and cultivated peonies for over two thousand years. Originally they used peonies as a flavoring for food. But since the time of the elegant Tang dynasty (618-907), they bred peonies for their beautiful flowers and grew them in the imperial courts of China. nThen, about a thousand years ago, the people of Japan also took a liking to growing peonies for their beautiful flowers. In the eighteenth century, peony cultivation and breeding took hold in both England and France.
Because naturally-occurring peony species are genetically related, it means many of them can easily be crossed with one another. So, over the years, hybridizers have produced thousands of different ‘cultivated varieties’—or cultivars—all the plants that today we call ‘peonies’.
Itoh Peonies are the result of a cross between garden peonies and tree peonies. While many Itoh peonies on the market today are bred in a lab via tissue culture, American Meadows only carries naturally-propagated, bare root Itoh peonies. We choose bare root Itohs because they will establish themselves in the garden and produce flowers earlier than lab-raised Itohs.
'Scarlet Heaven' Itoh Peony
Single peonies — such as 'Jan Van Leeuwne,' have one or two whorls of broad over-lapping petals surrounding a central mass of yellow stamens. These are the sophisticates of the peony world.
Semi-double peonies — such as 'Coral Charm,' have three or four whorls of petals, but the central mass of stamens is still easily visible.
Double peonies — such as ‘Sarah Bernhardt’, ‘Shirley Temple’ ‘Felix Crousse’ and ‘Karl Rosenfield,’ have sumptuous spherical flowers that are completely filled with numerous overlapping petals. Some blooms have more than a hundred petals!
Japanese or Anemone form peonies —such as ‘Bowl of Beauty,’ have one or more rows of large outer petals surrounding a mass of miniature petals called petaloids.
Back in 1923 the American Peony Society started awarding the society’s Gold Medal to peony cultivars that the committee considered truly outstanding—a tradition continued almost every year since. As a result, as of 2016, fifty-six peony cultivars are now designated Gold Medal Recipients.
Some gardeners become completely smitten by peonies and it becomes a lifelong passion. They collect peonies that show off the different forms, from single, semi-double, double and the Japanese or anemone form. A few may even try their hands at breeding their own new cultivars.
Before long their whole year revolves around that precious month in early summer when the peonies bloom!
Bill Countryman was one such peony collector. Always a naturalist and environmentalist, in 1991 at age 71, Bill decided to follow his true passion and create an outstanding peony collection on his farm, which was nestled in the hills above Northfield, Vermont. Within a decade, and supported by his loving wife Anne, Bill had amassed a world-class peony collection with over 1500 different peony cultivars -- including every Gold Medal recipient to date. Today, the farm is under new stewardship, and every June the breathtakingly beautiful display of peonies at Bill's farm continues to delight all who visit.
An impressive collection of peonies in bloom.
About the Author: Judith Irven is an accomplished Vermont landscape designer and garden writer, and she delights in helping people everywhere create beautiful gardens. You can visit her online at OutdoorSpacesVermont.com.
Learn tips & techniques for planting peonies, how to grow them throughout the season, and how to care for them at the end of the season.
With so many gorgeous peony varieties available, how will you know which is right for your garden? We'll help you choose, so you can enjoy long-living peonies for years to come.
Curious about this special hybrid peony? Read our article to learn more.
‘Karl Rosenfield’ is a garden classic. Widely considered one of the best red double peonies, this mid-season variety boasts huge, cherry-red blooms that are showstoppers in the e...
‘Festiva Maxima’ has been a garden favorite for more than 150 years! Large white flowers, handsome foliage, and enchanting fragrance are the hallmarks of this beloved early-seaso...
Cotton Candy Peony Mix is the perfect choice for peony lovers that just can’t decide! This selection of classic colors includes one each of: 'Sarah Bernhardt' (pink), 'Karl Rosen...
This Peony is famous for its huge, hot pink outer petals and contrasting frilly yellow centers. One of the most strikingly beautiful peonies. (Paeonia lactiflora)...
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