Tree Peonies

Tree Peonies

Part of Ep. 1704 Horsetails, Tropicals & Tree Peonies

Shelley Ryan travels to Avalon to learn about tree peonies and how to plant them with peony breeder Roy Klehm. Some tree peonies have blooms the size of dinner plates and they're quite hardy in Wisconsin. Favorites woody peonies include Lavender Grace, Garden of the Monastery and Toichi Ruby.

Premiere date: Jun 24, 2009

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley::
We're at Song Sparrow Farm and Nursery in Avalon, Wisconsin.  I'm with the co-owner Roy Klehm.  Roy happens to be one of the premier peony breeders in the country.  We're talking about tree peonies today.  Here's two examples, this one looks like a rose.  Yours looks like a beautiful ruffled dress.

Roy:
Yes, I hybridized this one myself.

Shelley:
So this is one of your babies?

Roy:
It's called "Lavender Grace."

Shelley:
It's beautiful.

Roy:
I liked it because of its form, the ruffles and the beautiful purple flares.

Shelley:
I like this one, because it looks so much like a rose.  It doesn't smell like a rose, but it does have a beautiful scent to it.

Roy:
Yellow is a very evasive color in the peony world.

Shelley:
Is it?  My first question, what is the difference between an herbaceous peony and a tree peony?

Roy:
Herbaceous peonies die to the ground every year, and they make their buds for next year below the ground.  That's why they die down.

Shelley:
Those are the typical old-fashioned peonies we know.

Roy:
Yeah, and think of a rhubarb or asparagus, they're herbaceous, also.

Shelley:
Okay, so these are woody.

Roy:
These have woody stems, they're woody.  They make their buds for next year above the ground.

Shelley:
So they're already making next year's buds.

Roy:
They'll grow more and more woody branch structure and develop like a big hydrangea with time.

Shelley:
So, a shrub.  And are they hardy throughout Wisconsin?

Roy:
They're hardy all the way up to zone three.  I have friends in Iron Mountain, Michigan, that raise them very well.

Shelley:
I assume, in a hard winter these might die back more?

Roy:
In a hard winter without snow, you'd probably lose some top growth, but they make so many buds below ground that they would re-shoot and reestablish themselves.

Shelley:
Okay, so nothing we need to worry about, then.  Well, you've got so many choices here.

Roy:
This is one of my favorites, "Guardian of the Monastery."  See the beautiful purple flares again and the lightness around the petals?

Shelley:
I like the darkness right in the middle.  That's just incredible.

Roy:
Isn't it a wonderful name, "Guardian of the Monastery"?

Shelley:
I know, it sounds like a movie or something.

Roy:
You're selling the sizzle and not the steak!

Shelley
There you go!

Roy:
This is another one of my hybrids, "Toichi Ruby." Again, note the ruffles, the clear, cherry red color.  The nice flower.  Now this is a young plant.  In an older plant the flower would be about half again this size.

Shelley:
You mean larger than that?

Roy:
Larger, this one is only about three years old.

Shelley:
Now, how big will these plants get?

Roy:
They'll get five feet high, four feet wide.  A little upright.  And oftentimes, 80 or 90 flowers on a bush.  Can you imagine that?

Shelley:
Wow.  And when are we saying the blooms for these?
Roy:
In late May, early June.  The further north you go, the later they will bloom.

Shelley:
Wow, So I'm assuming that something this gorgeous we don't want to plant it where we're gonna move it, either.

Roy:
Look at that, Shelley.

Shelley:
Isn't that just a sunburst?

Shelley:
I love the streaks of yellow there, too.

Roy:
This variety is called "Helene Martin." It's a new one on the market and selling very well.

Shelley:
I can see why.  Now with flowers this size, do we have to stake them?

Roy:
Maybe when they're young, but as they get older they develop a real stout, strong structure.  You don't have to stake them.

Shelley:
What time of year are we planting something like this?

Roy:
Because of container growing, I'll lift that up again.  You have the full root system in the container here.  If you invert it and gently take it out of its container, you can plant it just like this in April, May, June all the way through November.  Late fall planting would require a good mulch to get them through the first winter.

Shelley:
The herbaceous peonies are planted in the fall.  These are planted any time.

Roy:
That's the advantage of these being container grown.

Shelley:
But with them becoming so large, and a shrub find a good spot, so you're not moving them around.

Roy:
I think they're the bones of the garden.  Put little things around it.  They do pretty well in shady conditions and pretty well in competition for bigger trees and shrubs.

Shelley:
So even the drier shade?

Roy:
I think they'll be fine.

Shelley:
Excellent.

Roy:
Let me show you a few more really interesting newer ones.  This one is "Nike" which is the goddess of victory in Greek mythology.  There's quite a few named after Greek mythological figures.  Like Leah, Persephone, Ephigene, and Ephestos.  They're really all good tree peonies.

Shelley:
I'd like to put in a whole garden of them.

Roy:
Isn't that exotic?

Shelley:
Normally I'm not a fan of white flowers but this is just incredible.

Roy:
This is "Ice Storm," it was hybridized by Sir Peter Smithers of Switzerland.

Shelley:
It's just awesome.

Roy:
This is pure white, it just glows.

Shelley:
That's the word.

Roy:
Some older varieties that the Buddhist monks from Japan brought from China 800 or 900 years ago.  They hybridized them for lacy, upright flowers.  This is one here, called "Hana-Kisoi" which means "floral rivalry."

Shelley:
That rivals just about any color I've ever seen.  Look at that! That's enormous!

Roy:
It's like a blue-pink.  It's at least eight inches across.

Shelley:
Now, when you said Japanese I thought you were reaching for this Japanese maple.

Roy:
The foliage almost looks like a Japanese maple very cut leaf, lot of red in it.  A lot of these Japanese tree peonies and American hybrid tree peonies have this kind of foliage.

Shelley:
So this is the peony?  We're gonna get two seasons of interest, that's a benefit.

Roy:
Always a benefit, yes.  Let me show you something really exciting.  My favorite variety, this is "Joseph Rock."

Shelley:
Look at that!

Roy:
It's named in honor of an American plant explorer who was hunting in 1926 for rare plants for American nurseries.  He came upon this Buddhist lamasery.  And Buddhist monks always have wonderful gardens.  And this was in the center of their garden.

Shelley:
This peony?

Roy:
Right.  He tried to find more of this in the wild but he couldn't find one with this kind of coloration.  So he swung past the lamasery in the fall asked them for seeds.  He sent seeds to the Arnold Arboretum in Boston and the Kew in England.  Five years later, he made the same trip.

Shelley:
Back the lamasery.

Roy:
And Mongolian marauders had destroyed the lamasery the garden, and the monks.

Shelley:
The monks were all dead, too?

Roy:
Yep, they were gone.  If he hadn't been fortuitous enough to ask for seeds...

Shelley:
This would be extinct.  Wow, what a story.

Roy:
This is one of the premier peony varieties in the whole northern temperate zone.

Shelley:
What a special plant.

Roy:
I have one in my garden that's 30 years old with well over 100 blooms every year.

Shelley:
I get the sense that if you move, it's going with you.

Roy:
You're right, I'm not gonna move.

Shelley:
I think I'd take it with me, too.  Roy, all of these would be a jewel in anybody's garden.  Thank you so much.

Roy:
You're welcome.

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