Peony News

The last day of our open farm this season is today. I always want the season to go on and on; but, the petals are falling and barely a side-bud remains to open.  While there is still a bit of raggedy bloom in the fields to spy a flower form or color, our display tables are filled with nice blossoms for a good look at perhaps 80 varieties. 

We still have a selection of potted peonies and you can also order bare root for fall planting at the farm or online.

As we wind down another bloom season, I reflect on the wonderful help we enjoyed this spring. Friends and family pitched in to mow, weed, sell flowers and plants; and, do whatever needed to be done as my husband recovered from shoulder surgery. We are grateful. Bless you all. 


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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

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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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If you didn’t deadhead in June, you will likely find peony seed pods on some of your varieties. I often receive questions about ‘what those hard, leathery growths are’ on the ends of peony stems.

peony seed pods growing at Brooks Gardens

Most folks are pleased to hear that they are seed pods and might actually be fertile. Yes, you can grow peonies from seed. It takes a few years longer to get a mature peony plant from seed than from a root division. 

Some prolific peony seed producers include Blitz Tort, Delavan Rose, Flame, Mischief, Lemon Chiffon, Lois Kelsey, Nosegay, Picotee, Topeka Garnet, Villosa and White Sands. Sometimes I leave a few spent flowers on particular varieties when I'm dead heading, to produce open pollinated seed in late summer. Other times I leave a few on varieties that never or rarely produce pods – just in case ‘this is the year’.

It’s a bit early to think about ripe peony seed in July…..but, we’re a couple of weeks ahead of average weather in Oregon. We had an early spring and the crops are all keeping that full speed ahead pace this summer. I noticed some cracked-open seed pods on quite a few Paeonia mlokosewitschii over two weeks ago.  

P mlokosewitschii seed Brooks Gardens farm

As I scouted the peony seed pods in the field, I saw quite a few that are already opening. Yikes! Nosegay seed are already scattered. This is far ahead of the usual mid-late August seed ripening. Most seed is still developing (green pods); but do keep an eye out to catch the pods starting to crack open and then harvest your seed.

I put mine in a bowl of water, discard the non-viable seed (red on P. mlokosewitschii) and the floaters (likely hollow or underdeveloped) and plant or pot up the sinkers. Each peony variety that produces seed will have slightly different colored viable seed ranging from tan, dark brown, blue-black to black. Some will sprout next spring and some the following spring. Be sure to label the seed parent (and the pollen parent if you hybridized it). With a bit of patience, you may grow the next, best peony plant.

It's all in the family with our peony seed photo shoot his summer -  I grabbed a handmade ceramic vase to put a few pods in and my niece Soraya shot the great photos.

peony seed pods in pottery by Janet Sprauer

While I knew the vase was made by my sister Janet in 1973 high school ceramics class, it was pure coincidence that it was on her birthday when we did the photo shoot (I never even made the connection until I was typing this). While Janet has only seen my farm from heaven, I know she loves being a part of it. 

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Red peonies in a garden can command our attention from a distance. Planted in partial shade, the darkness of the deep red varieties intensifies in contrast to those grown in full sun. When the peony buds are developing and opening under cloudy skies, you will see darker pigmentation than when they develop and bloom in hot sun. That is why the vibrancy and hue of some peonies may vary slightly from one season to the next.

If you grow a dark red peony near a tree where it gets both sun and shade, you may be amazed at the deeper, richer color of the flowers. The trick is to have a nice balance of sun and shade – too much shade and the amount of flowers per plant will likely diminish. You can also see the stronger color intensity on a peony if you cut a bud when it is marshmallow soft and put it in the refrigerator for a few days. When you re-cut the stem and put it in a vase with water, it will open over the next day or two. You will see more vibrancy in the color than in one that opens in the garden, as it did not fade from the sun as it opened.

We grow some brilliant reds, like Christmas Velvet, Henry Bockstoce, Many Happy Returns and Command Performance. They are stunning red peonies and I love them all.  I love the darker red peonies, too. Some appear black red under the right conditions; others have a velvety allure to them. They come in single, double and Japanese style blossoms; some are accentuated with golden stamens peaking through their petals.

Bright red peonies make me happy and dark red peonies soothe my soul. Black Swan, Bob, Buckeye Belle, Charm, Chief Black Hawk, Old Faithful, Red Charm, Rubra Plena and Topeka Garnet are some of the deep reds that just shout out for attention.

  Black Swan



  Buckeye Belle


 Chief Black Hawk

  Old Faithful

  Red Charm

  Rubra Plena

  Topeka Garnet

Black Swan, Bob, Buckeye Belle, Charm, Chief Black Hawk, Illini Warrior, Old Faithful, Red Charm, Rubra Plena are some of the deep reds that just shout out for attention. When I see these dark beauties, I marvel at them each day that I can. Their red hues are often described as crimson, garnet, mahogany, sangria, scarlet or wine – there are so many shades that it is sometimes hard to define the exact color. 

Look for a few of these dark red peonies on display at our farm through June 15. They’ll be alongside the whites, pinks, yellows and bi-colored peonies. 

We also offer a selection of bare root peonies for fall planting in our online peony catalog.

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Peonies come in so many colors, flower styles and fragrances. You can check out your favorites at our peony farm where we showcase dozens of varieties. This week we have about 100 varieties of peony flowers in the display tent for side by side comparison.

Compare the different whites, reds, pinks, yellows and blended colors. The Coral Charm, Coral Sunset and Coral Supreme peonies can be easily compared. Like red peonies? Browse the Benjamin Franklin, Charm, Command Performance, Henry Bockstoce, Lucky, Old Faithful, Mikado, Red Charm and others to see which red peony your eye goes to.  

Pink and white peonies are here, too; along with some of the intersectional varieties like Garden Treasure and Lemon Dream. Other yellow peonies on display are the big Lemon Chiffon and the favorite light yellow, Prairie Moon. 

Stop by the farm to see some spectacular blossoms - from the single flower style of Topeka Garnet, the Japanese style Dainty Lass and the double peonies like Bridal Gown, Nice Gal and Shirley Temple. 

We have many peonies available in containers to transplant now. Bare root peony orders for fall planting may be placed at the farm or online at

Cut peony flowers are also for sale.

Hours are 10 am – 6 pm, daily through June 15, 2016

Find us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @brooksgardens

Brooks Gardens, an Oregon peony farm located at 6219 Topaz Street NE, Brooks, Oregon, 97305. Take I-5 exit 263, go 1 mile east to Brooks, OR; left at light onto 99E. We are just over one mile north of Brooks, OR (between Woodburn and Salem, off of 99E).

We are about 30 minutes south of Tualatin, Wilsonville and Canby, OR. About 40 minutes south of Portland, OR. Follow our purple Peonies & Iris signs in the area. 


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We have peony flowers ready for Memorial Day - specially priced this weekend. 

The peony field is showing color with many varieties still in bloom. Stop by and wander through the flowers. The season is ahead of previous years. 

Our peony display tables are full of over 100 varieties of beautiful peonies - pick out your favorites to order for fall planting; or, select a potted peony to take home and transplant now.  

Hours are 10 am – 6 pm, daily through June 15, 2016. Potted peonies, cut flowers and bouquets are for sale at the farm. 

Find us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @brooksgardens

Brooks Gardens, an Oregon peony farm & iris garden located at 6219 Topaz Street NE, Brooks (or Salem), 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.

 Happy Memorial Day!

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