A Party with the Peonies

I have been culling through my clematis photos to put together a couple more posts on them. But first, a little detour to report on a special garden tour I attended last Saturday in Fulton, Maryland at the home of Gail Gee. She has an extraordinary three-acre garden, devoted in large part to a stunning collection of peonies, and on May 21st she decided to open it to benefit Brookside Gardens.

I love peonies as much as anyone, and grow both tree peonies and herbaceous varieties. What intrigued me about this garden tour, however, was the opportunity to see some ‘intersectional’ peonies (also known as Itoh peonies), a cross between those two kinds. So off I went, camera in hand, on a hot and sunny day, with another garden designer friend.

Although she lives in deer country, Gee’s front yard garden (unfenced) holds a large assortment of peonies and companion plants that are resistant to our Bambi-type friends.

Peonies, alliums, siberian iris, deer-resistant plants

Hot red peonies, purple allium and blue Siberian iris in part of Gail Gee's front garden border

In the back yard, enormous carefully laid-out island beds carved up lawn space and drew the eye with focal points such as seating areas, pergolas and gazebos. The garden is only 10 years old. Landscape designer Gordon Hayward assisted Gee in designing the structure of the garden, but Gee has made the plant choices herself with help from Phil Normandy, Brookside’s chief horticulturist. Gee describes it as a “pleasure garden in the English style.”

Her collection of intersectional peonies is enormous – 43 varieties in all. They bloom later than herbaecous types, have stiffer stems, and aren’t prone to powdery mildew — all huge pluses in a gardener’s eyes. There are a large number of yellow and orange forms (fewer reds or whites), and over time each plant grows into a small shrub-like size, although like herbaceous peonies they die back to the ground in the winter, without leaving a woody stem.

I have three favorites from my visit. The first, shown below, is an herbaceous peony, ‘Coral Sunset.’

Peony Itoh 'Coral Sunset,' intersectional peony, Gee Garden

Peony 'Coral Sunset' from Gail Gee's garden.

The next two are intersectionals.

Peony Itoh 'Cora Louise', intersectional peony, Gail Gee garden

'Cora Louise', another intersectional peony, looked wonderful planted with variegated weigelia.

Peony Itoh 'New Millenium', intersectional peony, Gail Gee garden

'New Millenium' is a deep pink intersectional peony.

Gee told us that she orders most of her intersectional peonies from Swenson Gardens, which is an organic grower producing its plants the old-fashioned way rather than through tissue culture. I’ve recently purchased ‘Cora Louise’ and another Itoh called ‘Morning Lilac’ from a reputable wholesale grower in Pennsylvania, but they produce theirs through tissue culture (much less expensive). I will be curious to see how my plants fare. Gail advises planting intersectional peonies several inches deep (like a clematis) and says although they will look ridiculous the first year, it will pay off. Wish me luck – I’m excited about trying these out!

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3 Comments on “A Party with the Peonies”

  1. carolyn mullet Says:

    This post reminds me how common (in the sense that they are used everywhere too often) most garden peonies are. Beautiful photos. Georgeous flowers and colors. Sorry I missed this open garden. Spring is just too too busy.

    • Melissa Says:

      I know what you mean about spring being busy for us. But I was kindly ferried to the party by Barbara Katz since I was (and still am) recovering from a fall in a client’s garden that gave me a concussion and cracked rib, and was under orders to take it easy. So it was a great way to do so and indulge my passion for photographing beautiful flowers!

  2. Hey Melissa, I am back in Barbados, so have internet again, and trying to catch up on my reading. While I do like clematis, (nothing for them ro climb on as yet), peonies are my first love. I have been eyeing the itohs, just sooo expensive, hope yours do well.

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