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 reportedly 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.

Incredible Peony Flowers 

While their large, showy flowers resemble those of the tree peony parent, the growth habitat is that of a 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 and tend to have a longer blooming period than most peonies. 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).

That Peony Foliage

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.

Oh, The Fragrance!

Let’s talk about fragrance. Itoh peonies have the most heavenly scented fragrances (I have only encountered one or two intersectional 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.

Plant Habitat & Care

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.

Itoh peony Kaleidoscope an intersectional peony Brooks Gardens Oregon  

Visit our peony fields this spring, take a look, smell the peonies…and, fall in love. We grow about 40 varieties of intersectional Itoh peonies - see them blooming from early May through early June. 

Therese Sprauer

These bush peonies are abundant bloomers with very pleasant fragrances. We love the ones that have lemony fragrances and find that almost every variety of intersectional peony has a heavenly scent.  They have the finest qualities peony plants offer: gorgeous flowers, upright plant habitat that never needs staking; and, like all herbaceous peonies, they can thrive in the same garden spot for years (even decades) without needing to be divided. They offer a range of colors not found in other bush peonies. 

They are a hybrid cross between a bush peony 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.   

Peony hybridizers continue to introduce new varieties of these stunning plants with big, intriguing flowers and serrated foliage reminiscent of their tree peony parent. They are prolific bloomers and stately landscape plants. It is not unusual to enjoy 50 - 75 blossoms on a single mature plant.

Like all the gorgeous bush peonies, they are perennial plants and come back year after year. What’s not to love about these peonies?

Itoh intersectional peonies are a hybrid cross between a bush peony and a tree peony. They are technically intersectional peonies and are often referred to as Itoh (Ee-toe) peonies, after the original hybridizer of these exotic looking flowers. In the mid-20th century, Mr. Toichi Itoh was the first successful breeder of these peonies. There are now dozens of these varieties available and new introductions continue, as peony hybridizers share their successes with the world.  

They are herbaceous, perennial bush peonies. They grow each spring, produce exceptional flowers, have lovely foliage throughout the summer and are cut back to ground level in the fall. 

The flowers and foliage are reminiscent of their tree peony parent - big, exotic flowers and serrated leaves. They expand the range of colors available in peony flowers and have exceptional pleasant fragrances. Intersectional Itoh peonies are prolific bloomers and always upright plants – never needing staking. They add a majestic touch to any flower garden or landscape. Like all peonies, they are long lived and can produce flowers for decades. Many of the Itoh peonies have over 75 blossoms per plant at maturity, with side buds providing an extended bloom. 

All peonies may be planted bare root in the fall or transplanted from a container in the spring or fall. We grow 40 varieties of intersectional peonies and offer many for sale online. 

Pictured: Watermelon Wine; Lollipop; Kaleidoscope intersectional peonies. 


'Chief Black Hawk' peony (R. Anderson/T.Kornder, 2008). A single to semi-double peony, this is the darkest intersectional (Itoh) peony that we are aware of. A mid-season peony bloomer with magnificent deep red, velvety petals is a rare beauty in the garden. A nicely shaped peony plant with dark green foliage. Medium height at about 32"-34". 

'Bartzella' peony (Roger Anderson, 1986) is one of the most popular yellow peonies on the market. The semi-double to nearly full double peony flowers are filled with lemony yellow petals with soft red flares in the center. The dark green foliage on this stout intersectional Itoh peony (a cross between a tree peony and a bush peony) looks lovely in the landscape. The abundant blossoms are huge, reaching 6"-8" and the lemon fragrance is heavenly. They reach 30"-32" in height and width. This mid-season peony is an exceptional plant. 

Awarded the American Peony Society 2006 Gold Medal and 2009 Award of Landscape Merit. 

Who doesn't love the intersectional peonies? These beautiful peonies are also referred to as Itoh peonies (after Toichi Itoh, the first successful breeder of these hybrid crosses between a tree peony and a bush peony). 

Their flowers display the traits of their tree peony parent - big, exquisite and beautiful. Most have very pleasant fragrances.  The intersectional peony plants grow as bush peonies. Like other herbaceous bush peony plants, the stems are cut down to ground level each fall and new growth emerges again the following spring. Their serrated foliage contributes to their exceptional landscape qualities. They are disease resistant; and, like other peonies - deer resistant, easy to grow and long-lived perennials.  

The roots of an intersectional peony can be planted a bit deeper than regular herbaceous peony roots. The roots have a different appearance than other peony roots. They generally have eyes (buds) at the crown and along a woody stem or two. The roots are below and/or to the side of the crown. Intersectional peony roots will be placed downward into the planting hole with the woody stem angled just below ground level. Cover the roots in the planting hole with soil and also cover the woody stems with about two to three inches of soil. 

Browse our Intersectional Itoh peonies available for planting this fall. We have some beautiful intersectional peony roots with ample eyes, including: Al's Choice, Bartzella, Berry Garcia, Border Charm, Callie's Memory, Cora Louise, Chief Black Hawk, First Arrival, Garden Treasure, Julia Rose, Lemon Dream, Lollipop, Old Rose Dandy, Pastel Splendor, Prairie Charm, Scarlet Heaven Singing in the Rain and a few others. Intersectional peonies are stately in any garden.