Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tree Peonies






I'm still floating in the world of tree peonies as I look at the more than 700 photos that I took at Linwood Gardens last week. These otherwise private gardens are open for three weekends during tree peony season. And it is spectacular, not only to see the tree peonies, but also to see the weathered structures of the formal gardens that were designed by the architect Thomas Fox and to experience the palpable history that surrounds the place.

Tree Peonies are native to the mountainside and forest regions of China and Tibet. Known as the "King of Flowers", it was held sacred in the gardens of monasteries and temple courts, and grown as an exclusive treasure of the Imperial Palaces. In the eighth century, Buddhist monks took the Chinese tree peony, moutan, to Japan. Extensive hybridization by Japanese gardeners produced distinctive flowers with pure colouring, and elegant lines with long, delicate stems. The tree peony did not appear in the gardens in England and America until the nineteenth century, but even then it remained a rare plant because it was difficult to propagate.

In 1888 the discover of Paeonia lutea, the long sought yellow peony, enabled the introduction of new genetic material and unique colours never before seen. Dr. Saunders, in the late 1920's, made the cross between the P. lutea and the Japanese varities, obtaining seventy new hybrids with exceptional vigor and beauty. Over the next 50 years, William Gratwick and Nassos Daphnis continued the hybridization work at Linwood Gardens, creating an historic collection of new tree peonies, which are preserved at Linwood. The Daphnis varieties are named after Greek Gods and Goddesses and I've included a few photos of his peonies here.

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