Monday, April 22, 2013

I finally did it...

In a moment of weakness, I bought one of the exorbitantly priced intersectional hybrid Itoh peonies, 'Keiko' to be specific.  I've never had any success with peonies.  My zone (USDA zone 10b, Sunset zone 24) isn't hospitable for peonies.  Yet, I've always coveted them.

Many years ago, in a fit of zonal denial, I bought a bare root herbaceous peony.  I don't recall where I got it.  No local nurseries offer herbaceous peonies so I must have mail ordered it.  I planted it carefully.  Trying to emulate winter in its preferred zone, I placed ice cubes on the soil around it - regularly.  For months.  I knew it was an exercise in futility but I did it anyway.  It produced foliage but, of course, it never bloomed.  Common sense eventually prevailed and I gave the space allocated to the peony in my postage stamp-sized garden over to a plant better suited to my environment.

Later, I heard tree peonies could survive and bloom in Southern California where herbaceous peonies do not.  I located and planted one of these, obtained through mail order.  After about 3 years, it produced one beautiful bloom.  I was sure I'd turned the corner and that, in future years, it would bloom regularly and more heavily.  It did not.  It bloomed once more a few years later, again producing just a single bloom.  I finally pulled it out and made do with a peony-less garden.

When we moved to our current house 2 years ago, I decided to try another tree peony.  This time, I found a bare-root plant at Sperling Nursery in Calabasas.  It hasn't bloomed yet but it continues to produce foliage.  I remain hopeful.

Paeonia 'Shimadaijin' (tree peony)

The Itoh hybrids are recent introductions.  They combine genes of herbaceous and tree peonies and they're reported to be more resilient in our Southern California climate.  Monrovia began offering them last year.  I considered the purchase but, with so many other priorities in my "new" garden, I couldn't bring myself to pay $80 to buy a single plant.  Then, a week ago, I attended a talk at Rogers Gardens in Orange County, conducted by Nicholas Staddon, the director in charge of new plant introductions for Monrovia.  He spoke about how successful the Itoh peonies were proving to be in Southern California.  Now, I realize that he had a vested interest in making that case, but members of the audience also spoke up about how well their Itoh peonies are doing.  A number of these people came from areas as inhospitable to peonies as mine.  And, of course, Rogers just happened to have a large supply of the Itoh peonies on hand.  One came home with me.

'Keiko' (Japanese for Adored) has been carefully sited in a partially shaded area, although I worry that she may still get sun burned when summer hits.  She's blooming, although I have yet to get a really good picture.

Photo of 'Keiko' peony in my garden with partially opened bloom

Photo courtesy of Monrovia's website

It remains to be seen whether she'll earn her keep in my garden.  In the short term, I'll just be happy if she survives the summer.  Is it madness to invest so much in a single plant?  Perhaps.  But then gardening usually proceeds on a hope and a prayer anyway...


  1. Good for you! Knowing what you want and going for it is a very good thing. Although I do have to say now I know what it's like for people in places where agaves grow like weeds to read about my struggles to grow just a few. Why do we always want what we cannot have?

    1. So silly, isn't it? We undervalue what we have, wanting what we don't. I still haven't gotten over wanting curly hair instead of the straight hair I've got so there's no hope for me...

  2. The keiko is a very fine flower. looks like a fine young lady. Very beautiful.

  3. Good information for us in warmer climates. I may have to bite the bullet and buy one of these, if the peonies I have planted don't perform. I hope it blooms beautifully for you!