The Gardener's Peony: Herbaceous and Tree Peonies

The Gardener's Peony: Herbaceous and Tree Peonies

by Martin Page
     
 


Peonies are virtually unrivalled in a their ability to bring impact and drama to a garden. Once established they flourish for decades, bringing large quantities of flamboyant blooms in a magical range of hues and outstanding, often finely cut foliage. This informative guide highlights the best peonies for gardeners, paying particular attention to the tree peonies…  See more details below

Overview


Peonies are virtually unrivalled in a their ability to bring impact and drama to a garden. Once established they flourish for decades, bringing large quantities of flamboyant blooms in a magical range of hues and outstanding, often finely cut foliage. This informative guide highlights the best peonies for gardeners, paying particular attention to the tree peonies, herbaceous hybrids and the latest cultivars of Paeonia lactiflora.

The Chinese have been growing tree peonies for 1600 years but these exotic plants still make a novel addition to the Western garden. A full-size plant bearing dozens of flowers is an awesome sight and the selection here includes the best of the Chinese and Japanese cultivar ranges, the classic hybrids and the sought-after hybrids raised by Arthur Saunders in the 1930s that range in colour from yellow to mahogany-red. Enthusiasts of herbaceous peonies will delight in the selection of Paeonia lactiflora cultivars along with the new complex hybrids between P. lactiflora, P. wittmanniana and P. macrophylla. Over 200 photographs accompany the detailed plant descriptions to provide an invaluable reference source

Advice on buying peonies along with detailed cultivation requirements for the individual groups will ensure success in the garden, while information on the history of peonies, conservation issues, and morphology complete this authoritative review.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780881926941
Publisher:
Timber Press, Incorporated
Publication date:
06/28/2005
Pages:
268
Product dimensions:
7.56(w) x 10.70(h) x 0.88(d)

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Read an Excerpt


Tree peonies are among the oldest plants in the world and have made an indelible impact upon the world's art. The Chinese have been growing these lovely shrubs for approximately one thousand six hundred years and it is still easy for us to imagine the sense of awe that Europeans must have felt when they first saw them over three hundred years ago. The flowers were many times larger than those of a rose, and they must have seemed incredibly exotic. Most of us still have that feeling when we look at a mature plant, covered with dozens of flowers. On the face of it tree peonies appear to be rather delicate, but they can tolerate low temperatures in the winter when they are dormant and will withstand summer drought.

History

Tree peonies are endemic to China, where they have been grown as medicinal plants since at least the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.–A.D. 220). The first reference to their medicinal use was found in a medical book, excavated in 1972 from a tomb in Gansu Province (Lianying et al., 1998). Carved on sheets of bamboo and dated to the first century A.D. the book refers to the bark of tree peony roots being used to prevent blood clotting. Two centuries later the Wu shih Pên Tshao, which was written in A.D. 235, says that "The root is the thickness of a finger, and black, this is where the dangerous active principle resides. The fruits and seeds should be picked between the second and the eighth months, and when dried in the sun can be eaten. They lighten the body and promote longevity."

We do not know how long the Chinese have been growing tree peonies as ornamental plants, but they first appear in paintings as early as the fourth century A.D.. The earliest record of cultivated varieties comes from the time of the Sui Dynasty (A.D. 581–618), when tree peonies were grown in the imperial gardens in Xiyuan (now Luoyang). Most of them were probably collected from the wild and included plants with white, red or pink flowers. The tree peonies were so highly regarded that the Emperor Yang Ti issued a decree placing tree peonies under his personal protection.

During the reign of the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618–907) China became a prosperous and peaceful country. Chinese nurserymen and private gardeners started to collect all of the species of tree peony that were available and experimented with them until they discovered how to graft them. Cultivation seems to have started in the old capital of Changan (now Xi'an in Shensi Province) and then spread to other provinces, where breeding continued and in some cases the plants were crossed with other wild species that were endemic to that region.

While open pollination must have taken place and new cultivars arose naturally it also seems likely that the Chinese would have quickly learnt how to pollinate the plants artificially and produce their own seedlings. One of the leading horticulturists of the time, Sung Shan-Fu (A.D.

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Meet the Author


A botanist by training, Martin Page spent the early part of his career surveying hay meadows for the Nature Conservancy Council in England. He received his PhD from the University of Exeter and was a contributor to The National Vegetation Classification. He then spent several years working as a professional photographer, followed by a career in industry. Martin has been studying peonies for ten years and is the author of The Gardener's Guide to Growing Peonies. He was formerly the Deputy Editor of Water Gardening magazine and News Editor of the Royal Horticultural Society's journal The Garden. He is currently director of the American Peony Society.

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