In the past week, our Chinese Paeonia rockii hybrids have come into full bloom. This cultivar group of tree peonies originates from China’s northwest Gansu Province. This is the native area to one of the several wild species of tree peonies. In Chinese this species is know as ziban mudan 紫斑牡丹 or “purple flare” tree peonies. Botanically this species is classified as P. rockii, after the botanical explorer Joseph Rock who “discovered” this plant in the early 1920s. Since their introduction to European and American gardens 90 years ago, these plants have been treasured by gardeners. For much of this time, the only plant available to gardeners was “Rock’s Peony.” These were propagated from the original seed grown stock sent to botanical gardens by Joseph Rock. Despite the rather recent introduction of these plants to western gardens, the area around the cities of Lanzhou and Linxia in Gansu have been centers of breeding and cultivation for centuries and hundreds of beautiful cultivars have been selected out by growers.
‘Snow Lotus‘ Xue Lian 雪莲 is the cultivar of the wild species P. rockii
Since we first imported rockii tree peonies over ten years ago we have been enchanted by their many endearing characteristics. Briefly, the plants are near uniformly vigorous and easy to flower. All are tall growing and will tolerate more shade than other tree peonies. The flowers are large, and oh so fragrant. Blossom color and shape range is quite diverse, though all are marked by the dark crimson or maroon flares at the base of the petals.
’Blue Golden Lotus’ Lan Jin He 藍金荷
‘Cup of Shining Night‘ Ye Guang Bei 夜光杯
‘Blue Jade in Three Colors‘ Lan Yu San Cai 藍玉三彩
‘Black Tornado‘ Hei Xuan Feng 黑旋風
‘Blue Chrysanthemum’ Lan Ju Hua 藍菊花
‘White Chrysanthemum’ Bai Ju Hua 白菊花
‘Red Lotus’ Hong Lian 紅蓮
’Boundless Bright Sky‘ Qing Kong Wan Li 晴空萬里
‘Phoenix Hairpin‘ Chai Tou Feng 釵頭風
‘Daoist Pills in a Jade Stove‘ Yu Lu Lian Dan 玉爐練丹
Over the last 40 years, Chen Dezhong of the Peony Peace Garden outside of Lanzhou city has developed some truly outstanding cultivars. Will McLewin of Phedar Nursery in England has done peony aficionados a great service by helping Mr. Chen to compile a comprehensive, well-illustrated catalog of the amazing results of the Peace Garden’s tree peony breeding program. With the aid of their book, Peony rockii and Gansu Mudan, we have been able to identify many heretofore-unknown varieties in our collection. Some were mislabeled when they arrived; others had tags get lost over the course of a decade.
Kasha, burning the midnight oil. It is somewhat maddening trying to discern the slight differences between varieties, there are so many that could easily be described as “white with a dark center.” After much hard work, we were able to identify the following varieties:
’Black Haired Girl’ 黑髮女郎
’Glory of the Sun and Moon’ Ri Yue Tong Hui 日月同輝
We have also been planting out seeds from some of our favorite rockii tree peonies for the last several years and saw some very interesting new plants bloom for the first time this season. Below are some of the Cricket Hill Garden rockii test plants which we hope to propagate and offer for sale in the future.
In case its still not apparent, this time of year we here at Cricket Hill live and breathe peonies. In a few months, we will also be drinking them!
Following a simple recipe for flower wine, we set up a gallon of tree peony petal wine as an experiment. Should be intoxicating!