Paeonia TOW - Part 1

Jim McKenney
Fri, 30 Jul 2004 10:00:56 PDT
At 09:11 AM 7/29/2004 -0700, you wrote:

Paeonia are favorites here, although some do a lot better than others.
There are lactiflora cultivars (some home raised from seed), Paeonia
suffruticosa cultivars, P. suffruticosa hybrids, and plants received under
the names P. mascula, P. emodi, P. whittmanniana, P. peregrina, P.
tenuifolia and others.

Repeated attempts to establish the P. officinalis cultivars (double red,
double pink and double white) have been failures. But what that may mean is
that they do not grow in our local soils (warm, acidic). It's probably been
twenty-five years since I last tried these, and I'm a slightly better
gardener now, so maybe they are worth another trial. 

Paeonia mascula typically opens the peony season here sometime in April,
although sometimes P. emodi or one of the tree peonies beats it. We are
still experiencing night freezes when these plants are about to bloom. I've
never noticed damage on P. mascula or the tree peonies, but P. emodi
frequently aborts its buds here if frozen. 

The plant I grow as P. peregrina is probably P. arietina or a hybrid
thereof. The identity of mail-order Paeonia has been a major vexation over
the years. 

P. wittmannina was mentioned above. The plant I currently grow under that
name is evidently true to name. Many years ago I had another plant under
the name P. wittmanniana which I no longer have but would very much like to
replace. It had very coarse foliage (in fact it was received under the name
macrophylla) and small white flowers with one misshapen petal which
reminded me of the flowers of Franklinia alatamaha. The most distinctive
thing about this plant was the scent of the foliage: it had a distinct
boxwood fragrance (odor to some). Let me repeat: I would very much like to
replace this plant! Incidentally, this plant looked nothing like the
foliage of P. macrophylla illustrated in The Peonies edited by John C.

I have not seen Jim Waddick's peony book yet, but otherwise of all peony
books I've seen, all things considered, I think the Wister-edited work is
really outstanding. It includes a detailed account of the work of Prof.
Saunders, too. I think of this work as one of the best American
horticultural works of which I know. If everyone wrote and researched on
this level...If anyone were to ask me "I'm about to write a gardening book,
can you point to a particularly good model" I would point them to the
Wister-edited The Peonies. 

Now, let's have some fun. When I was a kid, I used to snicker at my country
aunts who called peonies pee-oh'-nees. They also said Sick'-la-men (for
Cyclamen) and mo'-ter-sick-ul (for what I would have to hop on to get out
of town fast if they heard these remarks). These were delivered in a
distinct northern Virginia accent, perhaps while they were out in the
garden picking cymlins. In my experience, people of my generation (I was
born in 1943) generally say pee'-uh-knee and sigh'-cla-men and
motor'-sigh-kul. But sometimes I still hear those other pronunciations. 

Now I realize that the old pronunciation pee-oh'-nee had the advantage of
preserving the long o sound of the Greek Paeon; but it's not above reproach
because it messes up the quality of the initial ae diphthong. Still, I like
it, and I have now retrained myself (much to the occasional astonishment of
the locals) to say pee-oh'-nee (soon to be changed go pie-oh'-nee).

And this raises my curiosity about the state of peony pronunciation among
contemporary gardeners. How are others doing it? Curious minds want to know! 

One quibble: when Jim Waddick wrote:

>These [tree peonies] have been cultivated for centuries, perhaps a
millennium, in China and in the West for about 150 years.

keep in mind that Paeonia suffruticosa has been grown in Western
(specifically, English) gardens since the late eighteenth century - or
about two hundred and fifteen years. 

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where I would definitely
need Paeon's help if my aunts heard those snickers! Or did Paeon deign to
treat mere mortals?

>>Peonies on the West Coast Part 1        by James W. Waddick
>>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. I'll follow 
>>with some suggestions.
>>         The genus Paeonia is primarily a temperate genus of plants 
>> closely related to the Family Ranunculaceae, but now usually confined to 
>> their own Family Paeoniaceae.  In many ways peonies are horticulturally 
>> treated as bulbs in the widest sense. Many have thick storage rots and a 
>> life cycle based on spring flowering/fall planted bulbs. Some bulb 
>> nurseries actually grow and sell dormant peonies along with the 
>> traditional tulips, daffodils and hyacinths.
>>         Horticulturally the genus is divided into two 'structural' 
>> groups: herbaceous peonies and woody peonies. Systematically they are 
>> best understood as four subgenera:
>>        American Native Peonies  (Subgenus Onaepia)
>         Woody or "Tree Peonies" (Subgenus Moutan) in Part 1
>>        And in Part 2:Chinese Peonies (Subgenus Albiflora containing the 
>> single species P. lactiflora)
>>         Most Herbaceous Peonies (Subgenus Paeonia)
>>Native Species
>>         Most gardeners, even West Coast Gardeners do not realize that 
>> there is one (or two) species native to the US west coast. Paeonia 
>> brownii ( or ssp brownii) is found in the Pacific Northwest in OR, WA, 
>> ID, UT WY, NV mostly in high desert sites. The closely related, P. b. 
>> ssp.  californica (or P. californica) is found in a smaller area of 
>> central and southern CA in desert sites. Both have attractive foliage, 
>> but their dull maroon-brown flowers are hidden in the foliage and 
>> generally attractive only to collectors.  They have proven difficult to 
>> grow outside their native area without extensive special care. I grow 
>> mine on a high raised bed for increased drainage and no added water.
>>         This species has the most bulb-like yearly cycle. In mild 
>> climates the foliage emerges in fall at the onset of rains, remains all 
>> winter to bloom in early spring and then goes dormant with spring/summer 
>> heat and dry. P. b. californica is especially intolerant to heavy frost.
>>Woody Peonies
>>         The cultivated tree peonies grow from 3 to 6 feet tall (certainly 
>> not 'trees') and have long-lived, woody stems. There are two sub groups; 
>> 1) the shrubby stoloniferous P. delavayi species with red, yellow or 
>> white flowers, and 2) the taller forms most often found in gardens 
>> including P. suffruticosa, P. rockii and relatives. These have been 
>> cultivated for centuries, perhaps a millennium, in China and in the West 
>> for about 150 years.
>>         Woody peonies comprise as few as 3 or 4 species or as many as 10 
>> depending on your 'authority'. The arrangements are especially 
>> controversial due to the long period these have been cultivated in China. 
>> All are found in SW China and among the most southerly of all peonies. As 
>> expected these will do well in milder climates and can be grown as far 
>> south as Los Angeles with some understanding and proper care.
>>         Tree peonies can reach to seven feet and live over 100 years. A 
>> well-grown plant can have hundreds of flowers up to a foot across and 
>> inspire growers to excess. They certainly deserve to be more widely grown 
>> in many areas and microclimates on the Pacific Coast. They require a 
>> minimum winter chill for dormancy and bud production. Some growers remove 
>> still green foliage during the coolest season to encourage this dormancy.
>>         These plants are the least bulb-like in growth, but can still be 
>> dug and shipped bare-root when dormant in the fall like other bulbous 
>> plants. In the ground treat them like woody shrubs.
>         Continues on Part 2
>                 Best    Jim W.
>Dr. James W. Waddick
>8871 NW Brostrom Rd.
>Kansas City Missouri 64152-2711
>Ph.    816-746-1949
>E-fax  419-781-8594
>Zone 5 Record low -23F
>         Summer 100F +
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