Sunday, August 14, 2005

A Gardener's Obsession

by Blaine Marchand
Taken from The Peony C to C August 2005 Vol 8 Issue 3

My parents didn't garden.  My childhood home was filled with shrubs whose blooms were lovely but fleeting.  Our side yard was cloistered by long rows of the common lilac that, for a brief period, was a flurry of mauve garlands that weighed down the tips of branches and wove the air with spicy incense.  Two side of the front yard billowed in a cloud of soft pink in early June as what my mother called "June roses" came and were spent.

However, each year in May, the Sisters would prepare our class for the annual procession down the hill of Piccadilly Avenue to the small wooded grove beside their neighbouring convent.  Nestled there was a grotto fashioned as if it were Lourdes in France.  Each morning leading up to the event, time would be devoted to learning the words of the hymns honouring Mary.  Every year, the girls whose names invoked the stories of saints - Catherine, Ann and Margaret - were given the privilege of bringing floral tributes to adorn the shrine.

Against their green tunics, the plumes of dark red, of snow white, of flush rose seemed to be exotic birds nestled into their arms.  As these girls led the chanting lines of boys and girls, quills of petals tumbled onto the ground over which we walked as we made our way down the gray asphalt and into the depth of wooded shade.  Against the dark stones, fashioned to suggest a cave, these peonies were fantastical splashed colour.

It was decades later, when I bought my own home that I first had plants of my own.  Within the grass, along the gnarled wire fence were two clumps - Sarah Berhardt and Festiva Maxima, I would later learn.  These peonies frustrated me.  Having been planted many years before, the large specimens would be top heavy with buds each year.  Inevitably just as they were to open, a violent night storm would rattle the windows.  In the morning, as I looked out over the yard, the peony blossoms, that last night held such promise, would be strewn across the lawn like shredded tissue paper.  Year after year, I cursed these plants until finally, when a friend said how much he loved peonies, I grabbed a shovel and tore them out of the ground.

Little did I suspect that peonies, like all things beautiful, are persistent.  They do not give way to the whims and rantings of novice gardeners.  They are called perennials for good reason.  And so, the next year, rising to the challenge, the peonies threw out shoots and gradually took back their rightful place.  Their perseverance won me over.  I learned to love their juxtaposition of subtlety and substance.

It was not, however, until my partner and I bought a century-old brick and stone schoolhouse that my obsession with peonies really took hold.  The school was built in the high  period of Victoria's reign,  on the cusp that marked 60 years of her monarchy.  As we slowly turned the neglected yards around the building into gardens, we searched through books for names of plants that were of that era.  And so, into perennial borders went peonies that evoked that period - Edulis Superba, Monsieur Jules Elie, Albert Crousse and Duchesse de Nemour.  Next, the ones we sought out were developed in the early decades of the 1900's.  Occasionally, we would buy a peony, regardless of its name or era, simply because we loved its colour or its foliage.

And then we discovered the peonies of Saunders with their spectaclar apricot, amber, buff and yellow.  His single peonies, I found exceptionally beautiful.  As Saunders was born in Canada and his father was the firs director of the Central Experimental Farm, near the neighbourhood I grew up in Ottawa and a place where I often wandered, they had a special connection for me.

We had begun to collect other plants developed in Canada - roses, apples and daylilies.  So, it was not long before Canadian peonies started to take their place in our garden, those of Brethour, Cousins and Lessing.  One of our prized peonies is a Menard - the Adrienne Clarkson peony, which we received as a bonus a few years back, before it was named to honour our current Governor General.

A good number of the peonies in our collections came from the annual CPA root sale.  And for that I am most thankful.  It is a way of obtaining hard to find peonies and to build the finances of the Society at the same time.  In the upcoming years, as I start into my retirement, I will be able to return the favour and offer roots fro our holdings.  While we now have about 75 different peonies, with three acres of property,  there is still plenty of room for growth.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Peony 101 -3 Types

By Mary Pratte
Taken from The Peony C to C August 2005 Volume 8 Issue 3

Most peonies in our gardens are of the herbaceous form - the more common lactifloras and hybrids between two or more different species.  The former usually produce multiple blooms per stem in various shades of white, pink, and red, while the latter also offer coals, cherries and a few pale yellows, mainly with one bloom per stem.  These hybrids also bloom earlier in the season than the lactifloras.  All have stems which die back naturally in the fall.  Herbaceous peonies have five flower forms - single, Japanese, anemone, semi-double and double.  If carefully chosen as to early, mid and late varieties.  It is possible to have a succession of bloom over seven weeks.

Tree peonies are shrubs with woody stems upon which the leaf and flower buds sit exposed through the winter.  This can make them somewhat tender in colder parts of the country, necessitating protection where there is not reliable snow cover.  The buds and huge crepe paper flowers are very elegant, and bloom in a wide variety of colours.  The suffruticosa tree peonies include all of the traditional Chinese and Japanese tree peonies as well as 19th century European introductions.  They have all of the colours found in herbaceous peonies.  Hybrids between the suffruticosa and the yellow-flowered wild Paeonia lutea originally bought yellow into the colour palate, but more modern hybrids, mainly bred in North America, offer an even wider range, including dark reds, pinks and exquisite blends.

Crosses between herbaceous and tree peonies - Itohs or Intersectional hybrids - are still quite rare, and this is reflected in the cost of their roots.  With time, prices will decrease, and their wonderful habits will be much appreciated in Canada.  While firs hybridized by Mr Itoh in Japan, one might think that they were especially developed for our northern climate!  They have herbaceous stems which should be cut back in the fall, but leaves and flowers similar to those of tree peonies.  Because the buds are buried underground in the winter, the are much hardier than tree peonies.

Saturday, July 2, 2005

les Jardins de Métis, QC

July 2-3, 2005
Peonies welcomed visitors to the Villa Estevan
2005 Events of the Society
Peony Display at les Jardins de Métis, QC

Patricia Gallant, head gardener at the Reford Gardens, joins Mme Lapointe after her interesting talk.  Mme Lapointe holds one of her earliest peonies – ‘Le Printemps’ – on July 3rd!
Christine works her magic to make each bloom look beautiful!
Freda  Godby (Ottawa, ON) helps with the set-up

Director of the Reford Gardens, Alexander Reford, and Mary Pratte, CPS President with ‘Festiva Maxima’ from his private garden. 

Yvan Maltais holding a painting he donated as a door prize, along with the happy winner!
The tables were filled with flowers, and set off by the stunning photographs of Louise Tanguay on exhibit in the exhibition hall

 Peonies grace both the inside and the outside of the Villa Estevan.  On the porch, attached to curtains, and even on the brunch table. 

One woman was inspired to draw what she saw…
The unusual flowers of ‘Green Lotus’ (herbaceous)

Flowers dried in silica gel on display with some of Mrs Reford’s garden journals, circa 1936.

 Interesting peonies in bloom in the gardens in early July, some identified, others not yet…

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden

 by Alice McCauley
The mandate of the Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden is to maintain and enhance the bridge of understanding between Chinese and Western cultures; it is a "living museum" in which to exhibit and interpret Chinese culture, art and history.  The New Hall of One Hundred Rivers was built to showcase art and horticultural exhibitions, and to accommodate expanding educational and public programming needs.

May has been designated Peony Month at the Garden.  On May 2nd  a peony art exhibition will be installed throughout the halls, and on weekends there will be brush painting demonstrations by professional artists.

The Peony Festival will take place on the weekend of May 21st.  The Society will provide an "educational presence", including an information booth, peony displays, a talk on peony cultivation, and an ongoing visual presentation.  Information will be available from volunteers from the VanDusen Botanical Garden's Master Gardener's program. The Garden will provide music, poetry readings, embroidery demonstrations, tasting of flower teas, and a display of textiles.

for further information about the Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden visit the website at

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


by Mano Capano, Pivoines Capano

Bartzella is a member of the all new select club of intersectional, or Itoh peonies, those famous peonies resulting from a cross between a herbaceous peony and a tree peony.  Bartzella is part of the intersectional peony generation created by Roger Anderson of Wisconsin.  Just  recently available on the market, these peonies are of an exceptional beauty and possess such characteristics that explain their high price.  These are the peonies of the future.

Bartzella has luminous yellow flowers.  A real yellow.  The interior of the flower is splashed with red, creating a superb contrast with the yellow.  When Bartzella is in flower, she dethrones all the others.  Imagine an enormous yellow flower, the size of a pie plate, held well above magnificent foliage on solid stems, without any support.  Imagine when there are more than thirty such flowers on the same plant.  Without a doubt, it is Bartzella who gets all the attention.  It is a top model peony.  Tall, with a natural distinction, it is a dream peony.

Bartzella produces numerous secondary flowers, though slightly smaller than the main flower, they are none the less spectacular.  These secondary flowers are what explains the long flowering period of Bartzella which can be as long as three weeks, beginning in mid-season and ending at the same time as the late blooming peonies.

Bartzella is vigorous and hardy to at least Zone 3.  After three years of growing here in Chicoutimi, the plant looks like a small shrub more than a meter in circumference and easily exceeding a meter in height.  The foliage is typically that of a tree peony, but, it is glossy when tree peony foliage is matte.  Even after flowering, the foliage remains good and solid until well into the autumn and the flowers are very fragrant with an agreeable hint of lemon.

Bartzella's characteristics led to it being awarded the title of Grand Champion during the 97th annual show of the American Peony Society in June 2002.  Bartzella is a specimen plant.  It should be used as a star in the landscape because it certainly deserves its tile of Queen of the peonies!

Monday, May 9, 2005

Peonies in the BC Interior

Taken from The Peony C to C
May 2005 Vol 8 Issue 2

By E Mitravitz

It is the first week of February here in my part of the country.  The temperatures are 50F+, the robins have returned and the grass that turned brown last fall has begun to show green.

A walk through my peony fields shows several of the early varieties have become adventurous and are pushing their red shoots through the ground.  It is a bit early, but the soil is too wet and muddy to allow me to cover them, so will take  chance on a hard frost later.

I live in the Similkameen Valley, which roughly parallels the U.S. border along Highway 3, which we call the Crows Nest Highway.  About 12 miles from here we climb a Pass and enter the Okanagan Valley at Osoyoos.

The tip of the Sonoran Desert, which begins in Mexico and extends northward to Osoyoos, ends here just outside of our area.  Some of the inhabitants - rattlesnakes, rear-fanged boa, scorpions, 26 varieties of spiders, and may more fauna reside here.  We have beautiful birds, California quail, a very mild climate, (except for a couple weeks in December and January)that all contributes to making this one of the most desirable places in Canad to live.  But, like all Edens, it has its drawbacks.  Here it is the soil and extremely hot weather in July and August.

The soil is thin and composed of volcanic ash and some clay.  If sand were to be added to this composition, then we would have cement.

We farm cherries, peaches, some pears and apples and also, 50 filbert trees.  A large garden is planted for our own use.  Each spring we amend the soil by adding well rotted cow and/ or turkey manure; bone meal; composted garden refuse and leaves; wood chips from our tree pruning are used as mulch on the flowerbeds.

To obtain the required moisture for the peony roots, we have installed a system of soaker hoses along each of the rows or around the beds and the water is turned on when needed during the night.  Because of the lack of snowfall and rain in our area, fall planting is extremely difficult.  Our land is irrigated by community water and this is turned on April 15th and shut off October 15th.  So, I have been buying from suppliers who will ship in the spring. So far it has been a success.

I have always grown a few peonies in my gardens wherever we have lived over the past 50 years, but never had the time to really investigate the many varieties.  After purchasing this retirement property, I began adding as may plants as I could afford each year and now have nearly 100 varieties.  My collection also boasts several very old varieties given to me from friends' parents' gardens and now with retirement, I will be ablt to spend more time looking for their names.

Two years ago I began contributing data to Michael Denny's Bloom Dates project.  We discovered that several of my varieties have such widely differing bloom times from the rest of the country that it will be worthwhile to log this data in minute detail to discover the reasons for the differences.

This is an exciting time for me.  Not many people get the chance to do what they want this late in life.  The more I read, the more books I find and add to my collection, the more beautiful blooms I get to see in my garden, the more eager I become to try new peony plants.  For the first time I have planted seeds after watching John Simkin's video and what a joy to see the roots a few days ago!  I had tried earlier without success and thought it was my inexperience that had caused the failures.

Happy peony gardening to you all!

Monday, February 21, 2005

"Red Charm" - Floral Emblem

by Rock Giguére

A town choosing a peony as their floral emblem is not a common occurrence.  However, that is exactly what the Ville de Saint-des-Desmaures, a suburb of Québec City, did!

In 2004, under the direction of Robert Peticlerc, the Embellishment Committee of this city of about 16,000 inhabitants took a number of steps to make this initiative a reality.  An important step was to ensure that the townspeople had access to a local supply of 'Red Charm'.

The committee met with three local garden centres to organize supplying the citizens, local businesses and the city.  The representatives of the garden centres happily participated in the project; they saw in their participation a good opportunity for publicity and a new market.  This coming spring, the local newspapers will inform citizens of the new floral emblem and where they can purchase their own future spring star.

Mr. Lyman Glasscock, the Chicago mason who created this hybrid in 1944, was far from thinking that his famous creation would become the idol of a whole city.  Per Mr. Peticlerc, "it's excellent stand, its prolonged flowering period and its exceptional beauty, convinced us to adopt this peony as our emblem."  Long life to this wonderful project!

Friday, February 11, 2005

Krinkled White

by L D'Aoust
Taken from  The Peony C to C Feb 2005

"Krinkled White"
Perhaps not the most dramatic of peonies, so why do I like this peony so much?  Several reasons really but perhaps the most important is that it is a peony I can rely on to produce loads of deliciously simple weather resistant flowers that work well in several garden situations.

"Krinkled White" is a P. lactiflora cultivar with beautifully formed single snowy white flowers.  Occasionally  if the weather is cool and damp, the flowers are blush pink when they first open.  The flowers however very rapidly become some of the brightest white flowers I grow.

Each stem holds several flowers that are always well pollinated here by the bees resulting in fat seed pods filled with pea size brown seed by the end of the summer.  I leave these pods on the plant as I find them quite decorative and I collect the seeds in the fall for inclusion in the Society's Peony Seeds are Special pamphlet (distributed at several events attended by the CPS throughout the year).

The foliage is not particularly dense, nor is it much above or below average peony height of about 80cm.  It does however age gracefully over the summer and adds a good structural element to any perennial border.  It certainly does not require any staking here.

A large garden could perhaps permit an extravagant drift of "Krinkled White", say nine plus plants planted on a curve.  A more modest garden of mixed perennials could certainly benefit from teh inclusion of such a good garden citizen as "Krinkled White".  It blends well with just about all other flower colours and without stealing the show;  it's impossible to over look.  And of course, it's a must have addition to a white garden.

Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Rediscovering The Peonies at Métis - An Update

by  M Pratte
Taken from The Peony C to C February 2005

After an additional two summers looking at the peony collection at the Jardins de Métis, it is ime to update the information as to which plants have been identified, which have been returned to the garden, and where the collection is going from here.

The work is difficult and slow going!  Many of the peonies in the collection are the voluptuous pink doubles which Elsie seemed to favour, and positively identifying these, when they resemble each other so much, is not an easy matter.  To add to this, the bloom period in Métis, while later than that in most of the rest of the country, is quite exteded once it gets going, and it is impossible to be there for the two to three weeks (sometimes more) that it takes to see all of these beautiful flowers in situ.  There are, therefore, still gaps in our knowledge of what is actually on site, but progress is made every year.

First, to the early hybrids and species in the collection.  May of the species peonies on Mrs. Reford's  list have older or suspect names, such as Paeonia woodwardiana, which is probably Peaonia veitchii var. woodwardiana.  Whether they were incorrectly named when shipped, she made an error in transcribing the names, or the taxonomy has changed over the years, is of no consequence, as it helps us make educated guesses as to what is there.

There are two distinct veitchii type plants - one about 2 1/2 feet tall with side buds, the other shorter without side buds.  Both bear the same nodding pink flowers which fade from a deep pink bud to almost white at petal fall, but they are perhaps two different subspecies or even seedlings which developed over the long history of the garden.  No matter what they are, they are absolutely gorgwous, always drawing comments from visitors to the gardens in late June/ early July.

Three seedlings of Paeonia mlokosewitschii were re-introduced last fall, and all overwintered well, sending up their distinctive rounded pinky blue leaves this spring.  If history repeats itself, there should be some lovely light yellow flowers within the next couple of years.  Mrs. Reford purchased her 'mlokos' in the fall of 1936, and notes in a journal entry of 1939 that, on June 26th "mlokosewitschii still opening more blooms - 13 in all.  A most charming and attractive plant".

There is no sign of Paeonia wittmanniana, and an early attempt to reintroduce it two years ago met with failure.   Once a reliable source is found, we will try once again.  Mrs. Reford spoke of Paeonia wittmanniana splendens.  Repeated efforts to determine what this is have born no fruit.  The supplier, Barr & Sons of London, England, has been out of business for many years, and when their offices burned to the ground, no records were left.  Our only hope is to find old Barr & Sons catalogues which might hold a description or a photograph, but these are hard to locate.  An inquiry made to Kelways, the holder of the National Collection of Peonies for the U.k., and peony nursery since 1851, left us only with a - "never heard of it".

The early hybrids are nothing less than exquisite, despite the fact they hide their identities well.  A new root  of 'Chalice', for example, was brought in from France (with the kind help of La Pivoinerie D'Aoust), and compare to the one we thought to be that hybrid.  They are not at all the same, with, amongst other things, the one original to the gardens having very thin, tissue paper like petals and the new one sporting waxy petals of good substance.  Have the solid and the climate of  Métis altered the original 'Chalice' after many decades?  Was the original incorrectly marked when purchased?   Despite our frustrated attempt to properly identify the original plant, it has to be said that both of the'Chalice' peonies are outstanding.

The 'Avant Garde' peony mentioned in the first article turned out not to be that, but there is one plant of 'Avant Garde'  on site.  It was compared to specimens in a large peony garden in Matane, at teh Montreal Botanic Gardens, and in my own, so we are confident enough to finally attach a label.

That leaves us with the 'Avant Garde' impostor - the 'mystery peony' of the Jardins de Métis.  It has been shown, in pictures and 'in the flesh' to many people, and the general consensus is that it most likely is a mlokowewitschii / wittmanniana cross.  This makes us stop in our tracks - could the beautiful pink flowers tinged with salmon be a naturally occurring hybrid?  Both Paeonia wittmanniana and Paeonia mlokosewitschii were not only in the gardens, but their bloom times overlapped  (as noted in the diaries of June 16th, 1046).  While this is a bit of a shot in the dark, it is a distinct possibility.  With no other leads to go by, we are strongly leaning towards adopting this provenance for the mystery peony.

As mentioned earlier, the pink lactifloras pose a bit of a problem of identification, with 'Mons Jules Elie' being the only one to be positively identified to date.  Of the 18 different lactifloras found in Elsie's diaries, 12 of them have been reintroduced to the gardens for comparison to those already there.  They should all bloom within the next couple of years, and with luck, this will confirm our suspicions about certain plants.

Two tree peonies, 'La Lorraine' and 'Louise Mouchelet' came from France in the fall of 2003 , and the latter bloomed in the summer of 2004.  One recently planted, unnamed tree peony has survived a couple of Métis' harsh winters under a blanket of snow, bringing hope that the original collection of these interesting peonies might soon be well established once again at the Reford Gardens.  Unfortunately, many of the original plants are no longer in commerce -  a Kelways introduction, 'Langport Lad' being one notable example - so unless we are able to stumble across them in some older, probably English garden, they will never again bloom along the shores of the St. Lawrence as they did so many years ago.

As for 'Lady Byng', well, she continues to elude us.  There has been contact, however, with the relatives of the breeder of this peony, Harry Norton, as well as the person who now owns his old home where this, and many of his other peonies, were bred.  We keep our fingers crossed that someone, somewhere has this very rare Canadian peony - what a thrill it would be to find her again, and return her to the guardians of Elsie's paradise.

Looking to the future, two extraordinary peonies have been added to those at the Reford Gardens.  One is 'Early Windflower', a stunning early white peony with small, nodding white blooms bred by A.P. Saunders, who crossed Peonia emodi with Paeonia veitchii to produce this gorgeous plant.  The other, 'Garden Treasure' is a more recent introduction by Don Hollingsworth.  This Itoh hybrid is a wonderful shade of yellow, highlighted with red flares.

Both of these peonies would have, to my mind, been high on Elsie's list of 'must haves'.  'Early Windflower', for it's beauty and suitability in these wonderfully feminine gardens, along with the fact it was bred by Prof. Saunders a man she much admired.  And 'Garden Treasure' , because it is unusual, still quite rare, and would most likely thrive at Métis.  The fact that it is beautiful and has blooms which open over a period of a couple of weeks - likely longer in the cool climate of the gardens - would also make it desirable.  To top it all off, it was the winner of the APS Gold Medal
in 1996, which would affirm it has that special something!

Thursday, January 6, 2005

Lois Hole January 30, 1929 - January 6, 2005

Our condolences go out to the family of Lois Elsa Hole, life-long horticulturalist, CM, AOE was a Canadian politician, businesswoman, academician, and best-selling author, who passed away on January 6th, 2005.  She was the 15th Lieutenant Governor of Alberta from February 10, 2000 until her death.    Her nursery became a member of CPS last year.