Paeonia TOW - Part 1

Jane McGary
Fri, 30 Jul 2004 09:38:43 PDT
Jim Waddick wrote,
 >The intent of this brief introduction to peonies is based on two 
assumptions: 1) that this is an introduction to the whole genus and 2) that 
garden peonies are not widely grown in western gardens.

Well, if the West Coast consists mostly of Los Angeles and environs (an 
opinion held by many East Coast persons), then that may be true. However, 
almost any garden worthy of the name in the Pacific Northwest contains at 
least one peony, and in my Oregon county alone we have three major peony 
nurseries. Furthermore, stock I have purchased from them has been much less 
disease-affected than stock bought from Midwestern nurseries. Even farther 
to the south, I recall my relatives in Lodi, California, northeast of San 
Francisco Bay, growing peonies, and I've seen them around houses in the 
Sierra Nevada foothills. Apparently you just have to pick varieties that 
don't need a deep winter chill -- and winter temperatures in northern and 
inland California are routinely at least as cold as in much of England.

I haven't grown P. brownii, but if I had it I would put it in a slightly 
shaded part of the bulb frame. I have heard of it being grown in the Czech 

In my own garden I have many species peonies, mostly grown from seed 
collected over the years by Josef Halda. Josef told me to keep the young 
plants in slightly shaded sites, and they are indeed healthier under that 
condition than if planted in full sun. Apparently mature plants can take 
more sun, but many species spend all their lives in scrub and light 
woodland. All my peonies are in parts of the garden that receive a bit of 
summer irrigation.

Among the woody peonies that Jim discussed in the first part of his 
introduction, I like the large form of P. lutea known as "ludlowii" to 
gardeners. I was given a seedling of this years ago by Margaret Mason of 
Portland, a great gardener now departed. My original plant is now quite 
large, and its seedlings have popped up here and there. The seeds, which 
are huge, must be moved around by animals, since one seedling is in the 
woods about 50 meters from the parent plant. I also have a little colony of 
P. delavayi, which spreads stoloniferously in the shade of some Styrax and 
Cercis trees; its emerging red foliage is pretty in spring, and I've been 
told the flowers of this plant are large for the species. Both these shrubs 
are rather ugly in winter, since the old pedicels and leaves tend to hang 
on like rotting rags to the awkward woody stems. Many kinds of bulbs can be 
grown under woody peonies; under P. delavayi, for instance, I have a carpet 
of pale blue Puschkinia, which is pretty with the beginnings of the red 
foliage, and there are clusters of yellow erythroniums under one P. lutea, 
and many Cyclamen hederifolium under another.

Jane McGary
Northwestern Oregon, USA

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