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The Coastal Gardener: Peonies in local gardens? The verdict is …

April 22, 2011|By Ron Vanderhoff
  • CHALLENGE: Just this week two southern California gardeners reported success with a new series of peonies, called Itoh Hybrids.
CHALLENGE: Just this week two southern California gardeners… (Ron Vanderhoff,…)

Serious gardeners love a challenge, especially when it comes to zones, frost, temperatures and all that boring technical stuff.

Tell a serious plant lover that you can't grow one, and they'll buy two. Tell them it's too tropical or too temperate, and they'll test it. Tell them it's too difficult to grow, and they'll dream about it all night long. Gardeners love to push the envelope.

Peonies growing and blooming in Southern California is precisely one of these local challenges. Just this week I received reports from Kathleen and Katharine, two women who accepted the peony challenge. To my surprise, both reported success with a series of peonies called Itoh Hybrids.

Kathleen moved to north San Diego County several years ago from colder climates. She missed peonies terribly.

"On a whim last year I decided that I really wanted to have one of the new Itoh Peonies, just to enjoy its beautiful blooms," Kathleen said.

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Getting a newly acquired peony to bloom the first year isn't all that surprising, since they are brought here from colder climates, where they've already been exposed to a cold winter.

But Kathleen's peony didn't behave as expected. Once it was out of bloom, Kathleen forgot about it and stuck it under the shade of a tree fern.

"I completely neglected it by letting it sit in water," Kathleen continued. "I finally remembered the poor plant a few weeks ago when I noticed some new growth. Quickly I moved it into a little sunshine and last week … buds!"

A reblooming peony only a mile and a half from the ocean, with no winter chill and no special care, just lots of water? Hmmm, that's not supposed to be possible.

Then I heard from Katharine, who has been growing peonies for five years in her garden in Glendora. During that time she has amassed quite a collection, probably more than 25 plants, enjoying their blooms all the way into mid-June.

"I have discovered that the Itoh peonies are very vigorous early blooming varieties," Katharine said.

She babies her peonies with mulch, fertilizer and weed control. She reports no pest or snail problems on any of her plants.

Katharine said that, after this spring, she learned that she probably doesn't need to coddle her peonies quite so much. Katharine explained her reasons.

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