Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for January, 2013

We have long known that many of our customers have had success growing peonies in the warmer parts of USDA zone 8 and 9. However due to the extreme and unprecedented conditions seen in some areas of these zones in the last two years, we recently contacted some very experienced growers in these parts of the country for some concrete advice on getting peonies to thrive there.

If you grow any types of peonies in zone 8 or 9 and would like to add to our growing advice, we would love to hear from you!

Growing Peonies in Dallas, TX (USDA zone 8)

Typical bloom time: Late February to early March for tree peonies. Herbaceous peonies begin to flower around April 1st.

Recommend types of peonies to grow: Growers have had success with all types of peonies, tree, herbaceous and intersectional. (Intersectional peonies are also known as itoh hybrids.)

The last two brutal summers have had extreme weather conditions.  In the 2011 drought and 2012’s unprecedented heat wave, all plants have suffered.

One gardener reported that over the last two summers, many plants in her well established gardens failed to survive the stress. These include hydrangeas, modern rose hybrids, and some tree peonies.  Tree peonies which had thrived for 6-7 years in the ground died due to drought related stress.  However, this very experienced gardener reported that her ‘Snow Lotus‘ tree peony has done exceptionally well despite the drought. In fact, she said that it is the only tree peony which she would unequivocally recommend for gardeners in her area. Her specimen is nearing 10 years old, is 4.5’ tall and produced 26 blossoms last year.

The rockii tree peony 'Snow Lotus' has proven to be a very reiable grower in Texas over the last few drought striken years.

The rockii tree peony ‘Snow Lotus‘ has proven to be a very reliable grower in Texas over the last few drought stricken years.

It makes sense that ‘Snow Lotus,’ which is a cultivated variety of the wild species Paeonia rockii is more drought and stress tolerant that other types of tree peonies which have been hybridized under more favorable growing conditions. The native range of P. rockii is northwestern China, particularly in Gansu province, a very arid region which averages just 12” of rain a year! This is less than half of the rainfall which Dallas, TX received in the drought of 2011.

This picture was taken in May in the countryside outside Lanzhou city in China's northwestern Gansu province. This is the native habitat of the tree peony species P. rockii.

This picture was taken in May in the countryside outside Lanzhou city in China’s northwestern Gansu province. This is the native habitat of the tree peony species P. rockii.

DSCN0444

Tree peonies being irrigated in the spring in Gansu province, China.

Growers in hot, arid parts of the country interested in growing tree peonies are then recommended to consider the rockii or Gansu Chinese tree peonies. Some of our favorites include: Cup of Shining Night, Black Tornado, Blue Jade in Three Colors, Purple Butterfly in the Wind and Pink Lotus.

Herbaceous peonies do not pose any special challenges and are widely grown in this area.

Best planting time: Either November-December,  or late January- February.

Site Selection: Its best to plant peonies in warmer climates so that they receive a little protection against very hot summer afternoon sun. As we recommend for all planting zones, morning sun and afternoon shade is ideal. If this is not possible, than plant peonies near a large shrub so that they are afforded a little protection from the very hot sun.

Watering: In spring and summer, at least two deep waterings a week with supplemental drinks in between as necessary. This is doubly important for newly planted peonies.

Pests and Diseases: Nothing significant.

Other tips: Remove any remaining tree peony leaves in the beginning of November. For herbaceous peonies, cut foliage to the ground at this time as well.

When planting herbaceous peonies make sure that the ‘eyes’ or buds are basically at the surface with only a very lite layer of soil or mulch covering them.

Peonies in Northern California (USDA zone  8b to 9)

Typical bloom time: The following detailed bloom sequence was observed over the course of a decade in Sebastopol, CA .

  • P. tenuifolia and assocaited hybrids such as ‘Early Scout‘ bloom in  late February to early March
  • Chinese tree peonies in mid-March
  • Japanese  tree peonies and P. lutea  in early April
  • P. lactiflora type herbaceous peonies from mid-May to early June.

Recommend types of peonies to grow: Consult a detailed zone map, such as Sunset’s Magazine garden zone guide for more accurately determining your planting zone. This index is much more detailed than the USDA’s zones. For instance, both San Francisco and  Sebastopol, CA are both classified as USDA zone 8. However, while tree and interesectional peonies do well in San Francisco without any special attention, herbaceous peonies are a challenge there. Just a little north, and still within the same USDA planting zone in Sebastopol.  In addition to tree and intersectional peonies, the majority of herbaceous peonies are proven to grow very well, with the exception of some very late season varieties.

We have heard from a gardener who has good success growing the earlier blooming types of herbaceous peonies in San Francisco. Her trick is to empty a bag of ice on top of her dormant plants once a week in December and early January. This gives the plants the necessary chill time to bloom.

Best planting time:  late November to early February.

Site Selection: Planting in a half-sun/half shade location is ideal. In sunnier locations, peony leaves will become scalded in the summer.

In the warmer areas of zone 9, work with micro-climates within your garden to find cooler planting areas. Planting in cold air pockets such as at the base of hills can extend the growing range.

Watering:  In zone 8b one or two deep waterings per week in the summer as necessary. Take special care of newly planted peonies.

In the warmer parts of zone 9,  late spring, summer and early autumn irrigation is required. This is best accomplished by hand or drip irrigation at approximately one gallon per plant every other day with good drainage. Mulching aids in decreasing evaporation loss.

Pests and Diseases: March rain can cause botrytis outbreaks. Based on the amount of rain, several treatments with either Actionovate or copper-sulfate may be necessary.

Gophers do not eat peony roots, however they will eat nearly every other root in the garden. Their tunnels can damage peony roots.

Other tips: Force dormancy on intersectional and herbaceous peonies by cutting them to the ground in November. Remove any remaining leaves for tree peonies at this time as well, be careful not to cut the woody stems, remove only the leaves and leaf stems. Trimming the leaves off  mimics the deciduous leaf drop in colder areas and cycles the plant into producing new flower buds. Peonies must have a rest period without foliage.

Read Full Post »

At Cricket Hill Garden, we have long specialized in Chinese tree peonies. We have a preference for these because overall we find Chinese tree peonies to be more diverse in form, color and fragrance than their Japanese cousins. That said, any gardener with an interest in tree peonies cannot help but admire the open flower forms, upright growth habit and vibrant colors which characterize Japanese tree peonies.

There is no species of tree peony native to Japan. Historians date the arrival of the tree peonies (known as Botan in Japanese) in Japan to the 8th century CE. Historians agree that it was Buddhist monks, whether Chinese or Japanese is a matter of dispute, that were responsible for transporting tree peonies to Japan. In this context, tree peonies were not seen as an ornamental garden plant, but rather as an important medicinal plant. Tree peonies were part of the great flow of goods and ideas from China to Japan.

qssqSA

Some accounts credit the great Buddhist monk and scholar Kōbō-Daishi with initially introducing tree peonies to Japan.

Over the next few hundred years, tree peonies were planted in temple and court gardens as ornamental plants, but it was not until the Edo period (1603 to 1868) that their cultivation became widespread. The advent of grafting as the main propagation technique during this period is largely responsible for the rapid spread of tree peony cultivation. The main center of cultivation and propagation became the cities of Tokyo and Kyoto as well as the western coastal prefectures of Niigata and Shimane.

Peonies at Hyakken an 1866 woodblock print by Utagawa Shigenobu depicts the tree peonies at a famous public garden in Tokyo.

Peonies at Hyakken – this 1866 woodblock print by Utagawa Shigenobu depicts the tree peonies at a famous public garden in Tokyo.

peonies in tokyo circa 1910

Viewing the tree peonies in Tokyo. Hand-colored photograph, circa 1910.

As in China, tree peonies in Japan carry significant cultural symbolism. When depicted in visual art and poetry, tree peonies in Japan represent good fortune as well as a righteous and noble spirit.

Beginning in the mid-19th century, Japanese tree peonies began to appear in western European botanical gardens. By the 1890s, several large nurseries based in Japan were exporting large quantities of tree peonies to both Europe and the United States.

The Yokohama Nursery was know for its large selection of tree peonies, irises and lilies. This nursery exported to the United States from the early 1900s until the eve of World War 2.

The Yokohama Nursery was know for its large selection of tree peonies, irises and lilies. This nursery exported to the United States from the early 1900s until the eve of World War 2.

A close-up from a beautifully printed Yokohama Nursery catalog, circa 1920. The varieties shown are, from left to right, "Peak of Mt. Fuji" 富士の峰 Fuji-no-mime "Peak of Mt. Fuji" and "Kasane Lion" 重ね獅子 Kasane-jishi.

A close-up from a beautifully printed Yokohama Nursery catalog, circa 1920. The varieties shown are, from left to right, “Peak of Mt. Fuji” 富士の峰 Fuji-no-mime “Peak of Mt. Fuji” and “Kasane Lion” 重ね獅子 Kasane-jishi.

A little aside: For those who think that tree peonies are expensive, consider that a vintage catalog from Yokohama nursery costs $5,500 from a rare book dealer. Real Japanese tree peonies, priced on our website starting at $89 are cheap by comparison!

From their first introduction into the United States over one hundred years ago, there has been much confusion amongst nursery professionals and collectors regarding the correct identification of Japanese tree peonies.  In his 1962 book, The Peonies, the grower John C. Wister gave vent to this frustration:

“Our troubles [in correctly identifying Japanese tree peony cultivars] have been by the carelessness or unscrupulousness of some Japanese nurseryman. The principle exporters of the 1910-1925 era would sell a collection of fifty varieties with fifty different labels and all but two or three plants would prove identical. The same firm would send fifty plants of one special white variety and the flowers would bloom pink, scarlet, and purple.”

Unfortunately, the situation has not improved much since, imported Japanese tree peonies continue to be chronically mislabeled. True to name or not, Japanese tree peonies were important to the tree peony hybridzation done by breeders such as Prof. Arthur Saunders and Nassos Daphnis. These great hybridizers crossed Japanese tree peonies with the species tree peony P. lutea to create the beautiful yellow and apricot tree peonies such as High Noon and Marchioness.

Some cultivars of Japanese tree peonies developed in the 19th century are still in commerce today. As more propagation of Japanese tree peonies is done in the United States the issue of mislabeling has become less severe. At Cricket Hill Garden we guarantee that all of the Japanese tree peonies we sell are true to name. Below are some of our favorite Japanese tree peony cultivars.

'Eternal Camellias' Yachiyo tsubaki 八千代椿 is a very reliable grower and bloomer.

Eternal CamelliasYachiyo tsubaki 八千代椿 is a very reliable grower and bloomer.

'Black Dragon Brocade' Kokuryu nisjiki is a very dark and highly prized cultivar.

Black Dragon BrocadeKokuryu nisjiki is a very dark and highly prized cultivar.

'Seven Gods of Good Fortune' Shin Shichifukujin is one of our most vibrant dark pink Japanese tree peonies.

Seven Gods of Good FortuneShin Shichifukujin is one of our most vibrant dark pink Japanese tree peonies.

'The Sun' Taiyo this is perhaps the brightest red tree peony in our entire collection.

The SunTaiyo this is perhaps the brightest red tree peony in our entire collection.

In both flower form and growth habit, Japanese tree peonies tend to share a number of morphological traits. This uniformity is probably a result of rather limited genetic heritage of Japanese tree peonies as well as the aesthetic decision made by Japanese peony growers. The shared characteristics of Japanese tree peonies tend to be: large blooms, 8-12” in diameter, upward facing, open semi-double flower forms, and though often less fragrant than Chinese tree peonies, the colors are extremely vibrant. Most shrubs reach 4′ tall and wide at maturity. Japanese tree peonies are more upright and less bushy than Chinese counterparts. The leaves are deeply dissected and many have a purplish green tint.

This plant well illustrates the tendency of Japanese tree peonies to grow in a upright, and not bushy, manner.

This plant well illustrates the tendency of Japanese tree peonies to grow in a upright, and not bushy, manner.

There are some notable exceptions to the rule that most Japanese tree peonies are semi-double. A few varieties are fine doubles while there is a whole subset of semi-double flowers which is know as jishi or lion form. There flowers are said to have the look of the tousled, unkempt main of a lion.

'King of Flower' 花王 Kao is a rare Japanese tree peony which blooms in a fully double form.

King of Flowers‘ 花王 Kao is a rare Japanese tree peony which blooms in a fully double form.

'Monitor of the Palace at Sunrise' Fusotsukasa is another double form Japanese tree peony.

‘Monitor of the Palace at Sunrise’ Fusotsukasa is another double form Japanese tree peony.

'White Jade Lion' 白玉獅子 Hakuojishi is a variety which is said to bloom in the 'lion's main' form.

‘White Jade Lion’ 白玉獅子 Hakuojishi is a variety which is said to bloom in the ‘lion’s main’ form.

In our experience, the majority of Japanese tree peonies are mid-season blooming, flowering after our Chinese tree peonies but before the lutea hybrids. The peak bloom for Japanese tree peonies at Cricket Hill Garden is usually around June 1st.

A bed of Japanese tree peonies in full bloom at Cricket Hill Garden.

A bed of Japanese tree peonies in full bloom at Cricket Hill Garden.

There is an interesting subsection of Japanese tree peonies known as Kan Botan or ‘Winter Blooming’ tree peonies. This type of tree peony blooms in the spring, and then, depending on the variety, re-blooms from November to January. The flowers in the winter are much smaller and the plant only produces a few leaves. These unique cultivars are said to date to the 1700s.

Winter blooming tree peonies are protected by straw mats in Japan. This photo show a tree peony blooming in a Tokyo park in December!

Winter blooming tree peonies are protected by straw mats in Japan. This photo show a tree peony blooming in a Tokyo park in December!

Winter Blooming tree peonies seems to have been developed to suit the unique climates of certain areas of Japan. We do not know of any growers who have successfully cultivated Kan Botan here in the United States.

In the 20th century, Japanese plant hybridizers such as Toichi Itoh were the first to successfully cross a tree peony with a herbaceous peony, creating a third type of peony known as an intersectional peonies.

Lastly a word on herbaceous peonies. The vast majority of herbaceous peonies are also not native to Japan.

japonica

The once exception is the early blooming Paeonia japonica.

As in China, herbaceous peonies are not held in quite as high esteem as tree peonies in Japan.

In America, anemone form herbaceous peonies are often referred to as 'Japanese' form, most likely because the first herbaceous peonies to flower in this form were initially imported from Japan.

In America, anemone form herbaceous peonies are often referred to as ‘Japanese’ form, most likely because the first herbaceous peonies to flower in this form were initially imported from Japan.

A future blog post will deal with the cultural significance of tree peonies in Japan and their depiction in Japanese visual art.

Read Full Post »