Peony of the Month – ‘Mother’s Choice’

In the spirit of Mother’s Day this month we have a perfectly named peony we want to tell you all about – ‘Mother’s Choice’.

Paeonia Lactiflora ‘Mother’s Choice’ is a wonderfully large, creamy white, herbaceous peony. A favourite cut flower choice, these peony flowers sit atop long strong, stems with glossy dark green leaves. A late midseason bloomer, they flower heavily from late spring to early summer for about 7-10 days and grow best in places where there’s an abundance of sunlight.

Reaching a height of approximately 90cm and spreading out to around 50cm these fully double rose-shaped blooms that can get up to 20cm across have a faint blush and sometimes exhibit dark pink streaks on the edges of their petals. Due to the large bloom size it is likely they will need staking. So get your plant supports ready just in case!

‘Mother’s Choice’ is delightfully fragrant so you can plant it close to entrances and on pathways to enjoy the lovely scent as you pass by. Forget roses! Stop and smell the poenies when life starts getting a bit much!

Registered in 1950 by the American breeder Glasscock, ‘Mother’s Choice’ is a result of cross breeding P. Lactiflora ‘Polar Star’ and became an American Peony Society Gold medallist in 1993.

With their roots in China, P. Lactiflora cultivars are also spoken about as the Chinese Peony and are the most familiar herbaceous peonies we see in our modern day gardens.

Delving briefly into a little bit of their back story, P. Lactiflora were originally used medicinally in China and by the seventh century they became popular as an ornamental plant and were placed under imperial protection. The emperor’s gardeners began creating more showy flowers, inspiring the emperor’s artists to capture them on screen paintings, tapestries, silk and porcelain.

By the eighth century, peonies found their way to Japan as the Chinese traded their very valuable roots for goods and in the early 1800’s P. Lactiflora was brought to France from China and introduced into European gardens.

By the second half of the 1800’s a lot of new hybrids were being developed by breeders such as Calot, Lemoine, Crousse and Dessert, many of which we still see today.

Peonies go back a long way and it’s easy to see why they were so prized - their luxurious beauty is unmatched.

If you don’t already have this lovely variety in your collection and would like to add it or are thinking of gifting one they will be ready for release in Spring. So if you head on over to our shop you can place your order now and it will be sent to your door as soon as Spring has sprung!

And while you’re there, check out the rest of the goodies to see if there’s any other pretty things you might fancy.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch! We love hearing from our customers and knowing how their peony experience is going.

Plant of the Month – Early Windflower

Early Windflower. Doesn’t that name conjure up a lovely woodlands landscape with little storybook characters pottering around in the brush? I can just see this bloom there waving gracefully in the breeze.

We’ve chosen this whimsically named rare herbaceous perennial as our January Plant of the Month.

One of the first flowers to come out of A.P. Saunders’ breeding program, coming about in 1939, he continues the magic, describing it this way:

"The white flowers, like autumn anemones, nod gracefully above the fern-like foliage. We cannot recommend too highly these lovely garden plants. Vigorous growers, these alas set no seed."

Autumn anemones, nodding gracefully.

More beautiful word pictures.

The Early Windflower definitely has a delicate Japanese anemone appearance. A hybrid between P. veitchii and the Himalayan Peony, P. emodi, this parentage contributes to its wild look.

As you can tell by the name this one is an early bloomer. So early, that even before the woodland peonies have woken up it will be the first type of peony to start flowering in your garden.

You’ll see these single, white, side-facing flowers, complimented by their finely cut pale green leaves, at the first hint of spring and have been know to produce up to 6 or 7 flowers on each stem. Their foliage also makes a very pleasing background for other flowers you may have, so even before it starts flowering it's doing a wonderful job looking great in your garden. Tolerating partial shade, they are happy in any sheltered position in fertile, moist, well-drained soil. They really are not fussy at all.

Vigorous and fast growing into a large clump with many stems and flowers, we highly recommend them for any gardener, old or new, as they have so many good characteristics - easy to grow, robust, unusual and lovely to look at.

You could add this one to your collection along with another that blooms a week later  - the “Late Windflower “. Sharing P.emodi parentage, there is very little difference between them besides the timing of their flowers. So they’d be a good pair to have in your garden to bring some continuity to your display.

Saunders continued the magical theme there is even one called “Sparkling Windflower”.

So now that you’ve gotten to know about our January plant of the month, you may want to make sure your peonies are hibernating happily in the winter season.

If you forgot to trim the stems back in Autumn, you can still do that now and as we learnt in our Autumn post, peonies aren't afraid of the cold so as long as you made sure to plant your peony in a well-drained container or area in the garden and are keeping it moist when it isn't damp enough, your peony is slumbering with a great big contented smile on its face.

At times in winter you may see the crown making its way through the soil and showing you some "eyes". Rest assured it's not giving you the stink eye. This is perfectly natural for a mature peony and you don’t need to do anything about it!

If you have a tree peony, you don't need to trim the branches in Autumn. You can leave them to stand bare-branched for the winter. However, if you did happen to have cut it down to the ground it's likely that if the roots are established enough it will be able to produce new branches when spring rolls around, but you will have to wait and see.

Have any questions about Windflowers or caring for your peony during the winter season?

Let us know!

Peonies in Europe – a brief history

Found yourself pondering over how the beloved peony found its way over to our neck of the woods? This is a subject I find endlessly fascinating. So much so, that in my efforts to condense things down into a brief history of peonies in Europe it all became more of a not-so-brief history of nearly everything (to semi-quote Bill Bryson). It became increasingly challenging to whittle it all down to what could be considered the most “important” bits, but here we are. My hope is that you will find some slightly lesser known facts to enrich your view of this historically diverse plant.

There are nearly 40 types of peonies that occur naturally in Central and Southern Europe, Caucasia, Asia and North America. The fragrant Chinese common peony (P.lactiflora) is a herbaceous perrenial originally used medicinally in China but by the seventh century they became popular as an ornamental plant and were placed under imperial protection. The emperor’s gardeners began creating more showy flowers which inspired his artists to capture them on screen paintings, tapestries, silk and porcelain.

By the eighth century peonies found their way to Japan as the Chinese traded the very valuable roots of these plants for goods.  It is distinguished from the common peony (P. officinalis) by its leaves, which have finely jagged edges, and its fruits (follicles), which are smooth.

Several varieties of the European common peony (P.officinalis) can be found occurring naturally in Europe and were mostly used medicinally in the 1400s. Introduced to Britain before 1548, this herbaceous double crimson peony became possibly the best known common peony in gardens, often found surviving on their own on old/abandoned estates.

In 1789 the botanist Sir Joseph Banks had a tree peony (P.suffruticosa) brought to England by the British East India Company which was planted in Kew Gardens.  European varieties known before the year 1800 come from P.officinalis and many of these came from France. Cultivation of herbaceous and tree peonies from the Far East began during the 1800s after discoveries were made by explorers.

In the early 1800s P.lactiflora was brought to France from China and introduced into European gardens.  By the second half of the 1800s new hybrids were being developed by breeders such as Calot, Lemoine, Crousse and Dessert, many of which are still seen today. During this time peonies captured the imagination of many European Impressionists such as Gauguin, Manet, Monet, Delacroix, Renoir, Whistler and Fantin-Latour who included peonies in their paintings. Peonies also featured in Art Nouveau posters such as ones by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

By the early 1900s different species were cross-fertilized bringing about the first herbaceous and tree hybrids. The first large double yellow tree peonies were created in France by Louis Henry, Maxim Cornù and Lemoine. These were hybrids of P. suffruticosa (cultivated for centuries in China and Japan) and P.lutea (a yellow-flower species brought to Europe from China by Abbé Delavay in the late 1800s) and had to be supported due to the weak stem and large flower combination.

However, in the 1950’s an American breeder of herbaceous peonies, Professor Saunders, rectified this by cross-fertilizing to increase the strength of the stem and creating a simpler flower - semi-double and double. Following on from Saunder’s work, William Gratwick and Nassos Daphnis made notable progress resulting in some of the most remarkable Lutea hybrids available. It was then in 1948 that Dr. Toichi Itoh from Japan cross-bred the herbaceous species (P.lactiflora) with the tree species (P.lutea), producing the “Intersectional”/”Itoh” hybrid we see today.

Found in so many different regions around the world, it's no surprise then that peonies suit so many different types of gardens. This gives us helpful insight as to where the best places are to plant peonies in your garden. We will be discussing that in a future post but, for now, this is it!