In the midst of our 5th week of Cricket Hill Garden’s 2014 peony bloom, we finally have a moment to post some photos of the herbaceous and intersectional or ‘Itoh’ peonies. We should still have flowers in the garden for another week, proving that in our climate planting different types of peonies does indeed provide six full weeks of gorgeous blossoms. We hope you enjoy the following late season bloom recap.
The Chinese tree peonies bloomed about ten days later this year than usual. Needless to say, once they began they were even more breathtaking than we remembered. Our Japanese and Lutea hybrid tree peonies are still in bloom, with some still very tightly budded. There are still weeks of peonies to come this spring so we will be posting more as the blossoms open.
On a recent trip to am unnamed box store for some spring renovation supplies, we were surprised to see intersectional peonies offered along with the standard spring selection of dahlia tubers and gladiolas bulbs. It was only a few years ago that intersectional peonies, hybrids between tree and herbaceous peonies, were so rare that they could only be found at specialty nurseries such as ourselves. Today, thanks to increased importation of Dutch grown intersectional peonies, they are found more frequently at less specialized nurseries and garden centers. However, as many of you know, not all peonies are equal.
We invite you to Cricket Hill Garden’s 25th anniversary peony festival this spring. Despite the long winter and late thaw, we are confident that it will be our most spectacular season to date at Peony Heaven. Some of the tree peonies in our display garden are reaching an impressive size. If you are in the area of northwestern Connecticut, please come and say hello, stroll the garden, bring a picnic to eat by the pond, and most of all enjoy the peonies. As always, the garden is open to the public and there is no admission fee.
We are happy to accommodate garden clubs and other groups. There is no fee for this, but we do ask that you make an appointment for a large group in advance. Give us a call at 860 283 1042 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to make arrangements.
Our garden and nursery is located in the picturesque hills of Litchfield county. There are good restaurants, other beautiful gardens and endless hiking trails in the area. Have a look here for a little peak at what our leafy corner of Connecticut has to offer.
Cricket Hill Garden Nursery Hours Spring 2014
May 1st to June 22th- Open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm
- After June 22th, by appointment only
2014 Peony Festival Schedule
April through early May
May 17th to late May
May 11th Mothers Day: We celebrate mothers with the with specials on selected potted peonies. Peonies are budded, but this year it is too cold for peonies to open for Mother’s Day.
May 26th Memorial Day: Specials on selected potted peonies at the nursery. This will be a great weekend to see the peonies this year. We anticipate tree peonies will peak around this time.
Early June Blooms
June 10th t0 22nd
These projections are our best guess based on the current forecasts for the coming weather. It has been colder than average and the blooms are slow to develop this year. We will update our information as the season progresses. Feel free to email us at email@example.com or call (860) 283 1042 for up-to-date peony bloom information.
Among the three types of peonies- tree, herbaceous and intersectional, there are a variety of growth habits. Along with sun requirements, the mature form of a given variety is an important consideration when planning to add a peony to your garden.
Tree peonies, like other woody perennials, are comprised of a thicket of stems which emerge out of the ground from the root system. Tree peony growth habits are categorized according to the angle at which the branches grow relative to the ground.
Upright form tree peonies
Upright form tree peonies tend to be vigorous varieties with comparatively long annual growth. Stems and branches grow upwards, at a narrow angle to the ground. The example shown here ( Sichuan Peach Blossom) is about 6 ft. tall and 6 ft. wide, and has been pruned of lower leaves and small branches to allow an uncluttered, open form of the shrub.
Tree peonies with this growth habit include: most cultivars in the Chinese rockii and Japanese groups, some Central Plains Chinese and hybrid tree peonies. Final mature height will vary between 4.5 to 7 ft., depending on the cultivar. In our plant descriptions, we do include the mature height of our cultivars.
Landscape uses: Tree peonies with upright growth habits make excellent display plants. Do not be intimidated by the height, keep in mind that tree peonies are slow growing plants which take 10-15 years to reach their mature size. Vigorous cultivars can also be kept smaller with yearly pruning. Grow in USDA zones 4-9, with at least 5-6 hours of sunlight.
Spreading form tree peonies
The branches of the spreading form tree peonies expand out diagonally to the ground, so that the plant width is much greater than the height. This type seems slower growing than upright habit tree peonies. At maturity, tree peonies with spreading growth habit measure between 2.5-3 ft. tall and 3-5 ft. wide.
Tree peonies with this growth habit include: Some Central Plains cultivar group of Chinese tree peonies (includes many of the historic Chinese varieties), some hybrid tree peonies.
Landscape placement: Mixed perennial border or foundation planting. Also very attractive planted on a raised terrace which allows for easy viewing of downward facing flowers. Ideal for smaller gardens. Grow in USDA zones 4-9, with at least 5-6 hours of sunlight.
Semi-spreading form tree peonies
The semi-spreading growth habit is characterized as being an intermediate between the upright and the spreading types. Typically dimensions at maturity are between 3-4 ft. tall and 3-5 ft. wide.
Tree peonies with this growth habit include: All cultivar groups of tree peonies have some varieties which can be classified as having a semi-spreading growth habit. The majority of hybrid tree peonies are semi-spreading.
Landscape placement: Very versatile, can be used as either a focal specimen plant or as part of a more diverse garden setting in a mixed shrub and perennial border. Grows in USDA zones 4-9, requires 5-6 hours of sun to bloom well. Tree peonies will grow in full sun, but the flowers fade more quickly. Morning sun, afternoon shade is ideal.
Species Herbaceous Peonies
There are approximately 25 species of herbaceous peonies which can be found in the wild over a wide swath of Eurasia, from the Mediterranean to Japan. They are lower growing plants, between 1 to 2.5 ft. tall. Some species, like P. japonica, remain small plants which will not exceed more than 1.5 ft. wide. Others, like P. macrophylla will become large clumps with time, up to 3 ft. wide.
Landscape use: Some species, like P. japonica are ideal for the shady margin between the deciduous forest and the garden. Other species require full sun. All add delicate color to the early spring garden. Be aware that many species peonies will have their foliage die back in the heat of summer.
Lactiflora type Herbaceous Peonies
Cultivated varieties of P. lactiflora account for the vast majority of herbaceous peonies in commerce. This species, which is native to China, forms a tall, upright bush, generally 3.5 ft. tall and wide. Some are single form flowers, while others are fully double form. Some cultivars are weak stemmed and require support, while others have markedly stronger stems. We have test grown more than 150 herbaceous peony cultivars in 25 years and have discarded many because their stems are too weak. We select out the better peonies to propagate and sell, those with vigor and good stems, fragrance, unique form and color.
Landscape uses: Devoted beds or borders. A widely adaptable garden favorite for generations, used in mixed perennial borders with at least six hours of sunlight, to a full day of sun. Will grow in USDA zones 3-8. Some herbaceous peonies will grow and bloom in zone 9, but must be planted just below the soil surface. Difficult to establish in zone 9 due to dryness and lack of winter dormancy.
Hybrid Herbaceous Peonies
Hybrid herbaceous peonies are the result of crosses between different peony species. Sizes within this broad group are quite variable, between 2.5-4.5’ tall and 2.5-3.5’ wide. Many of these hybrids were first created in America, in the mid-t0-late 20th century.
Landscape uses: The wide range of flowering times and diverse plant habit make these widely adaptable landscape plants. Many of the new hybrids have been selected with an eye for stunning flowers as well as good stem strength. Used in mixed perennial borders with at least six hours of sunlight, to a full day of sun. Will grow in USDA zones 3-8. Some herbaceous peonies will grow and bloom in zone 9, but must be planted just below the soil surface. Difficult to establish in zone 9 due to dryness and lack of winter dormancy.
Intersectional or ‘itoh’ hybrid peonies
These are hybrids between tree and herbaceous peonies. Well formed bushes grow to 3-4 ft. tall and wide.
Landscape uses: Well suited for mixed perennial borders or foundation plantings. The plants require 6 hours or more of sunlight. The foliage is attractive from early spring to the hard frost. The foliage will die back in late autumn and is cut down, to re-emerge in the spring. Clumps get larger over time. For USDA zones 4-9.
The cold hardiest citrus is an interesting addition to the northern edible landscape. At Cricket Hill Garden, we have sturdy 2-3 year old seedlings, organically grown (non-certified), available for spring and fall shipping.
Peonies bloom in a wide range of forms, from simple, elegant singles to massive doubles with more than 300 petals. In China, where the peony has been cultivated for over 2000 years, growers have developed a rather complex system for classifying tree and herbaceous peony blossom shapes. Peony culture has a much shorter history in Europe and the United States. The system used by American growers to classify peony flower shapes is less specific than that used in China. At Cricket Hill Garden, we try to use the Chinese system for classification of flower forms. We feel that it is a better tool for recording the nuances between different cultivars. While a shorthand of single, semi-double and double is perfectly adequate for understanding the basic difference in peony flower forms, the Chinese system is for connoisseur gardeners with a well developed appreciation for the subtleties of the nature of the flowers.
Its somewhat akin to drinking tea or wine; while a black Lipton’s teabag is fine, and Mondavi is drinkable, others find joy in the perfect blend of a select plantation tea or discovering a new 90 point expert’s vintage.
Historically in China the preference amongst gardeners seems to have been for extravagant double blossoms. We have had experience growing these over the past 25 years and some of them are very difficult to bloom in the true form. The soil and nutrients have to be in balance, a double form flower will not perform well in less than optimal soil.
Over the last several decades, Chinese peony breeders have made many newer introductions of flowers with lighter, more open forms. The vast majority of Japanese peonies are single or semi-double. American growers have largely adopted the lighter form preference, dismissing large double blossoms as “ungainly.” As a result most hybrid tree peonies selected by America breeders for propagation are single or semi-double form.
American gardeners, however have a continued devotion to large flowered double herbaceous peonies. Despite their weak stems, the big ‘poufy’ peony is still a favorite. What we have tried to do in our trials is select the best growing habits of the hundreds of peonies we have tried. When we recommend a tree or herbaceous peony, it is because we know it performs well, blooms easily and will have more than adequate stem strength. That is why you see a very discriminating ‘edit’ of our peony offerings, we want the best performers as well as the most stunning forms and colors.
The flower forms on the chart and the examples that follow show some of the best cultivars in each category.
Note the definitions of the forms as well as examples of peonies which bloom in the given form.
Single: 1-3 layers of petals that are large, wide and flat. Stamens and pistils are exposed. These flowers are normally fertile.
Lotus (semi-double): Large and close fitting petals in 4-5 slightly overlapping layers forming the shape of a lotus flower. Both stamens and pistils are exposed.
Chrysanthemum (semi-double): Counting 6 layers of petals which gradually decrease in size towards the center. Stamens can be normal, or somewhat petaloid (where the stamens become petals). Pistils are normal.
Rose (semi-double): Counting 6 layers of petals, which are usually larger than the chrysanthemum form. Petals are larger on the outside than on the inside. Stamens and pistils are somewhat or mostly petaloid.
Anemone (double): 2-3 outer layers of wide and straight petals. Stamens are completely petaloid and have become small narrow petals. Pistils are either normal or reduced. Under the American system of classification, this form is known as “Japanese.”
Hundred Proliferate (double): Many- layered double, having the appearance of two merged and overlapping flowers. This is a common form, with many lactiflora type herbaceous peonies falling into this category.
Golden Circle (double): 2-3 outer layers of large petals. Most of the stamens are petaloid, but a ring of normal stamens remains and has the appearance of a golden circle between the narrow interior petals and the wide outer petals.
This is a rather uncommon form, though many of the more complex double flowers will bloom in this form when young or when not adequately fertilized.
Thousand Petal Crown (double): Wide and expansive outer petals. Stamens are completely petaloid and usually have the appearance of becoming larger from the exterior to the interior of the flower. The center of the flower is raised.
Historically, this was by far the most popular flower form in China. Many, though not all, of the cultivars which bloom in this form have flowers which are so large and heavy that they are side-facing, or down-facing. This does not mean they are all hidden flowers, they bloom from the side view rather than on top of the plant.
Hydrangea Globular (double): All stamens are completely petaloid with shapes and sizes similar to those of normal petals. Pistils are petaloid or reduced. These flowers are said to resemble hydrangea blossoms are well as xiuqiu, embroidered silk balls which are a traditional handicraft in parts of China.
This is a rarely encountered form. Cultivars which bloom in this shape require optimal growing conditions to do so because the flowers are so large.
There are some peony shapes which do not fit neatly into the above categories. An example is the “lion’s mane” form of tree peony blossom which was very popular in Japan in the 19th century. These flowers are typically semi-double and ruffled. These shaggy flowers are not as popular today and rarely seen in commerce.
Peonies which do not have access to adequate nutrition will not bloom up to their potential. Flowers on poorly fertilized plants will be smaller and simpler than their true form.
Peonies show alternate shapes and will often not bloom in their mature form when young. This is especially true of the more complex forms of tree peonies. The mature age for a tree peony is usually considered to be about ten years old.
Many of the full flower forms we offer now will bloom well by 5-6 years of age. We have discarded hundreds of peonies as too slow to bloom or too difficult to grow over the past 25 years. What we offer in 2014 is a result of the many years of trial growing here in Connecticut.