Itoh Peonies: The best of two worlds

The result of crossing herbaceous peonies and tree peonies, Itoh peonies also called intersectional peonies combine the best features of both:

  • Beautiful, large and colorful flowers in vibrant tones with contrasting inner flares;
  • Distinctive foliage held on sturdy semi-woody stems, forming a rounded mound;
  • No (or practically none) need for additional mechanical support;
  • Hardy roots and stems dying above the soil every winter;
  • Better disease resistance.

[Top photo: Paeonia ‘Impossible Dream’ in my garden]

Named for Toichi Itoh, the Japanese peony breeder who first succeeded in hybridizing them, Itoh varieties are not as numerous as other garden peonies. The latest introductions may be more expensive. Yet, they are really worth the investment!

Similar to herbaceous peonies, Itoh peonies require a good well-drained garden soil and a daily minimum of 6 hours of sun. They can be transplanted year-round if bought potted or, preferably, bare roots in the fall. Be sure to plant them slightly deeper to avoid them pushing themselves upward in the spring.

The iconic Itoh peony found in most nurseries is ‘Bartzella’. Its big yellow blooms make this reliable hybrid a popular landscape plant, although many others are becoming better known and found in an array of colors and shapes.

For example, I really fell hard for the orangey flowers of ‘Kopper Kettle’ and the lavender tints of ‘Morning Lilac’. Many Itohs are also prolific bloomers. Additionally, they bloom over a longer period than herbaceous peonies, up to three weeks, mostly mid-season or late season. After being well established, 2 to 4 years on average, the plants are also interesting for their cut flowers both for the amateur gardeners and the producers.

Itohs form a bush of lovely green foliage all summer long. Similarly, fall colors are also quite attractive, ranging from bronze to dark red.

Flower colors may become paler or flushed as they mature. If this happens, the different shades of blooms on the same plant provide a real spectacle!

[The prolific 5-year-old Paeonia ‘Bartzella’]

Below is a photo selection of a few of my expanding collection of Itoh peonies. During their first years, the flowers may be single instead of semi-double or double as they are advertised, and even mishaped. As with all peonies, patience is key!

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