Peony News

The rage of peonies - Intersectional Itoh flowering garden plants.

They are peonies of perfection, with some of the finest qualities of all peonies: exotic flowers; pleasant fragrance; upright plant habitat, unique colors and winter hardiness.  

Canary Brilliants intersectional Itoh peony     Chief Black Hawk intersectional Itoh peony     Yellow Dream Itoh intersectional peony

Intersectional peonies are a hybrid cross between a bush and a tree peony, thus the name ‘intersectional’.  They are often referred to as Itoh peonies, after the first successful breeder of this type of peony, Mr. Toichi Itoh. His quest for creating an intersectional peony cross came to fruition in the late 1940’s, after years of dedication. Because of his success, many other hybridizers found hope and inspiration in creating additional intersectional peonies. Mr. Itoh left a living legacy to the world with these most spectacular, flowering garden plants. Sadly, he passed away before seeing their first blooms.  Fortunately, Louis Smirnow, a peony grower in New York contacted Mrs. Itoh and they arranged the transfer of the plants for future generations to enjoy.  Mr. Smirnow was able to introduce the first Itoh peonies (Yellow Crown, Yellow Dream, Yellow Emperor and Yellow Heaven) in the 1970’s, and the stampede for such magnificence began.

While their large, showy flowers resemble those of the tree peony parent, the growth habitat is that of an herbaceous bush peony. They come in single, semi-double and double flower forms, with petals silky smooth or delightfully ruffled. The color spectrum of selections ranges from solid tones to blends of multiple colors, many with contrasting ‘flares’ in the center. Clear, bright yellow; dark black-red; crisp white with lavender or purple flares; and, a kaleidoscope of colors are found in these peonies.

    Yellow Heaven intersectional Itoh peony     Lemon Dream intersectional Itoh yellow and lilac peony     Love Affair white intersectional Itoh peony

In early spring the primary ‘eyes’ (buds) on their root system sprout into new stems, each producing a flower. Many varieties also develop side buds, which produce additional, smaller blossoms on the same stem as the main flower. Prolific bloomers, they may produce 50 – 75+ blossoms on a single mature plant.  After blooming, most folk’s dead head; but, you can leave the spent flower to produce magnificent seed pods. They can be cut and dried to use in floral arrangements. You may even find a viable seed in one (although, that is elusive in intersectionals).

The attractive foliage is serrated, like that of a tree peony. The leaves are shades of green or bronze, depending upon the variety. The plants display the flowers beautifully on stately, domed plants, making them excellent choices for landscaping. Once you see a few intersectional Itoh peonies, your eye will recognize the distinct foliage and flowers.

Let’s talk about fragrance. The flowers exude the most heavenly scented fragrances (I have only encountered one or two varieties that did not seem to have fragrance).  I think of their fragrances as ‘sweet’ or ‘perfumed’ – absolutely outstanding.  The flowers of ‘Bartzella’ and ‘Garden Treasure’ actually have a lemony fragrance.

Gardeners love the upright plant habitat that never needs staking.  They keep looking beautiful through winds and rains. In 17 years of growing these peonies, I have never seen an intersectional Itoh peony plant go down under the weight of rain. Love that!

Like all herbaceous peonies, they can thrive in the same garden spot for years (even decades) without needing to be divided.  They come in many heights and widths, to fill small or large garden spots. On average they fill up a 3’ x 3’ space.

Care for an intersectional Itoh peony like any garden bush peony, including cutting stems to ground level each fall, as they go into dormancy for the winter. You’ll know when it’s time – they will start to lose their appeal and begin to look a bit ‘ratty’. It’s highly recommended to remove all peony stems and leaves from the garden each fall; rather than composting them. Sometimes people think their plant has died; but, it is just going dormant and is supposed to ‘die back’ each fall. 

If you forget to cut back the stems in the fall, they will naturally deteriorate and turn mushy. Try to clean up the foliage as soon as you can. While these cultivars are rather disease resistant, leaving old, mushy peony foliage in the garden can invite unwanted fungal guests.   

The underground roots are workhorses, growing quite large over the first 3 – 4 years. They store nutrients for stem and flower growth. Expect about 3 years to reach maturity from a newly planted root division or a transplant from a container.

Bare root peonies are planted in the fall and potted peonies may be transplanted spring or fall.  Intersectional Itoh peonies can thrive in USDA zones 2-8 (they do like a winter chill). In warmer winter zones (USDA zone 9) planting roots closer to the surface, with just a smidge of soil over the eyes (buds) ensures greater success.  While other herbaceous garden peonies only want one to two inches of soil over the eyes in USDA zones 2-8, the intersectional can take another inch of soil. Often, laying the root at an angle allows for easier planting, as the eyes tend to be more generous, on a longer root. As with other peonies, they love full sun; and will do fine in partial shade.

Peony plant growth is slow the first spring, as the roots develop. First year peonies may produce only a few stems – this is normal. While many flower the first year, it may take another year to get blossoms.  By the third spring, you should have a glorious plant.

Fertilizing peonies is a matter of personal choice and/or soil quality. Many gardeners fertilize annually in the spring, others never fertilize their peonies and have excellent results.  A 10-20-20 organic or synthetic bulb/flower fertilizer can be used in early spring. Be sure it is a slow release fertilizer if applied to potted plants, or it will burn the foliage. Follow recommendations from the label and apply near the drip line of the plant (a foot or so from center). 

Peony hybridizers continue to introduce new varieties of stunning intersectional plants every year. It seems as though the array of colors and hues never ceases to amaze peony lovers. We can’t wait to add the latest to our collections – and, while we would like to see a blue peony – they seem to only exist on photo-shopped ads.

Peonies - 200 Garden Varieties, book of peony flowers My new ebook ‘Peonies – 200 Garden Varieties’ includes photos of the intersectional Itoh peonies: Al’s Choice, Bartzella, Berry Garcia, Callie’s Memory, Canary Brilliants, Chief Black Hawk, Cora Louise, Garden Treasure, Hillary, Julia Rose, Kaleidoscope, Kopper Kettle, Lemon Dream, Lollipop, Magical Mystery Tour, Prairie Charm, Rosy Prospects, Scarlet Heaven, Sequestered Sunshine, Singing in the Rain, Unique, Watermelon Wine and Yellow Heaven. We have others growing at our Brooks Gardens peony farm, which is open to visitors each May bloom season.

Visit a peony garden this spring, take a look, smell the peonies…and, fall in love.

Therese Sprauer

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Pre-Season Peony Sale

Save 15% on all peony root orders placed now through March 31, 2017. 

At checkout, enter discount code: spring

Browse our online peony catalog for a great selection of bare root peony plants, including many interesectional Itoh varieties, fluffy old-fashioned and newer varieties. The color and flower choices are amazing.


These 3-5 eye roots will be shipped to you in the fall - prime time to plant bare root peonies. Plan ahead and order today! Satisfaction guaranteed.

In the Portland - Salem area and want to pick up peonies to transplant this spring? We'll be open Saturdays from March 25 - April 22, 2017 for potted peonies. Hours: 10 am - 5 pm. Open other days through April 29th by appointment - telephone 503-393-7999.

Our peony field and iris gardens will open April 29th! We'll have cut peonies and potted plants. 

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'Peonies - 200 Garden Varieties' - an e-Book of Peony Flowers

I recently published an e-book of 200 peony varieties, showcasing the various flower forms and colors of these magnificent flowers. 

The book idea was formulated in my mind some years ago. Like a peony seed, it sprouted, continued to grow; and, finally, it bloomed. ‘Peonies – 200 Garden Varieties’ is now available through Amazon. 

I initially created a printed prototype and shared a few copies with colleagues and friends for input. Then I decided to test the waters with an e-book, as so many folks use phones, tablets and computers for all types of reading.

Creating a peony book for non-gardeners, as well as for peony growers and gardeners is the route I took. As I point out in the book, there is a wealth of information available on the internet, peony websites and in printed books on the history, propagation, growing & care, physiology and medicinal uses of peonies. While I offer some simplified information on peonies at the back of the book, this book is intended for sheer browsing pleasure.

It’s for people who love peonies, whether they grow them or not. It’s for peony farmers to be able to show their customer a photo of a peony. It’s for peony gardeners who want to compare flower forms and colors, perhaps finding a new favorite variety. It’s for people who live in apartments, don’t have a garden, can’t garden or live in a climate where peonies don’t thrive. It’s intended for all peony lovers.

While my goal is to also offer a printed version in the future, I am fascinated with the reading/browsing experience of the e-book. You can easily adjust the layout for your best viewing experience.

Don’t have an e-reader? You can download the free Amazon Kindle App to read/browse on a phone, tablet or computer. Adjusting the font size or page width allows for viewing 12 or more peonies at the same time – great for comparison. Very easy to figure out - Amazon Kindle offers simple instructions for reading e-books on a variety of devices. Look for their 'Read on Any Device' box under the book cover. 

Find 'Peonies - 200 Garden Varieties' at Amazon Kindle e-Books. 

You can also find us on Facebook, please feel free to share our posts with your friends (it can be a lot better for the blood pressure than political posts). Browse more photos of our peony farm on Pinterest

Hope you have a lovely day - spring is just around the corner!


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Our 2017 bare root peony catalog is now available online. While we ship peony roots in the Fall (beginning September 1st), you can start browsing now. Ordering early reserves your choice peonies. 

As always, we guarantee our roots. We want you to be successful in growing these beautiful flowers.  Click here for our 2017 peonies


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How to get your peony plants off to a good start - fall planting tips.


  • SUN & SOIL - Plant peonies in a sunny, well drained location. Peonies love full sun; at least a half day of sun will provide abundant blooms. Plant on mini ‘hills’ to provide better drainage, if needed. Often there is no need to amend the soil; peonies grow in clay soils.
  • PREP - Dig a good hole for your root, about 12” deep by 12” wide. Spade up the soil you removed from the hole and put some back into the hole. Leave enough room to set your root in the top of the hole. 
  • ROOT DEPTH - Plant peony roots near ‘ground level’ (not very deep).  You can place the root at an angle or straight up and down, with the buds (eyes) of the root at the top, just below the surface of the ground. The fleshy part of the root (kind of like a carrot) will be pointing down into the hole. Cover the peony root until only one to two inches of soil covers the ‘eyes’ (buds). The ‘eyes’ will be just under ground level. Planting too deeply can stunt growth. When planting a peony from a pot, remove the pot and plant the peony so that the top of the ‘root ball’ is at ground level, with only a tiny amount of soil covering it. 
  • Water - Give your new planting a drink of water. Check to see if the root settled deeper. If it did, lift the root, slip a little soil under it and re-position the peony root so the ‘eyes’ are just below ‘ground level’ with only an inch or two of soil on the top of it. Water occasionally the first spring and summer. Once established, peonies are rather drought tolerant; although they appreciate a little water now and then in hot summers.
  • Care - Many gardeners never fertilize peonies, others fertilize each spring with a little flower fertilizer. In the fall, cut the stems to ground level and remove the old leaves and stems from the garden. The peony plant ‘eyes’ will reappear each spring. Peonies can grow for decades in the same spot without needing divided.
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I've been busy shipping peony roots since early September and most of our early orders will be shipped within the next week. There is still time to order peonies for fall planting, as we will be shipping throughout the fall. 

Many gardeners wait until after the first frosts to cut back their old peony stems and to plant new peonies. With a lot of tender vegetable and flower plants, you worry about the first frost; but with peonies, it’s the time to start something new. You can plant bare root peonies anytime in the fall, whether frost is on the ground or not. 

Be sure to water in new peony root plantings and keep slightly moist until the fall rains come. 

For existing peony plants, cut the stems back to ground level each fall and remove the leaves and stems from the garden.  New shoots will emerge next spring.

Peonies rarely need divided – don’t feel as though you need to divide a peony every so many years. Unless you are seeing less blooms each spring on a mature peony (possibly from too much shade or overcrowding by other plant roots) you can leave a peony plant in the same spot for years – sometimes decades. If you do want to divide a peony in the Fall, split it into two or three pieces to re-plant, rather than planting the entire root ball into a new location. It helps stimulate new root growth.  

For more information on peony planting and care, check out our Peony FAQ.


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Perhaps garden space is at a premium or you’d like to try growing a peony in a patio container. Because peonies grow very large roots, it is best to plant peonies in the ground for the long term; but, you can raise any peony in a large container – for a time.

While the average peony height ranges from 32”-36” tall, there are a number of shorter varieties 18”-28” tall that can be perfect patio peonies.

Some shorter peonies to consider: Allan Rogers, Border Charm, Joker, Lois’ Choice, Mandarin’s Coat, P. Lutea ‘delavayi’ and Shirley Temple.

 Border Charm peony Joker peony

Lois' Choice peony Mandarin's Coat peony P. lutea 'delavayi' yellow tree peonyShirley Temple peony

Select a large container, preferably ceramic, stone or wood. Plastic heats up and may not be the best choice depending upon summer temperatures. I have some compact peonies planted in 15 gallon containers that are about 7 years old and are still blooming profusely each spring. At some point the roots will want more space, they will lose their vigor; and, then I will divide them into two or three pieces and start over with fresh soil.

Three things to keep in mind if you raise peonies in pots: use big containers, as the roots are quite hefty; water more frequently than you would a peony planted in the ground; and protect them from prolonged severe freezing (below 15 degrees or so). Peony roots planted in the ground will endure severe freezing; but, you might want to protect potted peonies in arctic type winters. They should have a bit of moisture in the container soil. In the spring, summer and fall, container plants, including peonies, will need watering more frequently than those planted in the ground. 

When it’s time to re-pot them, you’ll likely end up with several nice divisions for more containers or to share with friends. The best time of year to divide and plant peonies is in the fall (September - November), before the ground freezes (frost is no problem). 

Potted and bare root peonies are for sale at our farm - open Fridays and Saturdays in September and October 2016 from 10 am – 4 pm.

Order bare root peonies online now for fall planting.

Brooks Gardens, an Oregon peony farm is located at 6219 Topaz Street NE, Brooks, Oregon, 97305. We are just over one mile north of Brooks, OR (between Woodburn and Salem, off of 99E) and 30 minutes south of Tualatin, Wilsonville and Canby, OR. About 40 minutes south of Portland, OR.

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