The Timeless Magic of Itoh Peonies

tree peony, photo courtesy of Phillip Oliver

All gardeners love peonies and are usually familiar with the gorgeous tree peony, pictured above and the common herbacious peony, pictured below. I had a white herbacious peony planted next to my Grandmother’s grave in Utah, and have always been glad I made that choice.

Shirley Temple peony

Now, enter the itoh peony, fashioned in the late ’40s by a hobbyist breeder in Tokyo, Toichi Itoh, who successfully crossed the two I’ve just mentioned–the tree peony and the herbacious one we are more familiar with–after experimenting literally with thousands of attempts. And, sadly, he dies before seeing his creation come into blossom. (I’m going to imagine that he was, indeed, watching when it happened years later, and was profoundly pleased and moved.) Fortunately his widow was contacted by a peony lover in America, who secured a few from her and went on to be part of its development and dissemination. When the itoh became available to the public only the rich (or obsessed) could afford, as they cost up to a thousand dollars per plant.

Fortunately they have now been introduced to nurseries. So let me introduce you to the itoh peony which I myself just discovered in a local nursery in Mendocino County, called Whispering Winds. I was blown away by their beauty and had to share with all of you.

Itoh peonies grow up to a three feet high and three and a half feet wide.

Gardeners will be happy to hear that itoh peonies need not be staked as herbacious peonies need be, as their stems are stronger, having been crossed with the tree peony.

Are you swooning yet?

The itoh peony can yield up to 50 blossoms per season! That’s a lot of beauty to look forward to.

Landscapers in particular will be delighted they can reassure their clients that itoh peonies are deer resistant! They are also not fussy, and will do well in full sun with well drained soil. Also handy–costs have dropped and can be found for $50-100 per plant.

Also very good news that itoh peonies make good cut flowers! What a perfect gift for Mother’s Day!

Love and garden blessings!
Kathryn xoxo

Book News: Dearest readers, I have begun doing podcast interviews again, and was just featured on Dr. Paula Joyce’s wonderful show “Uplift Your Life”. I was delighted to be a guest on her show and am pleased to be able to offer you the link to an MP3 of the interview which will enable you to listen by simply clicking here. I do hope you enjoy!

Oh, Happy Spring!


Worldwide, it would seem, we have patiently–or not so patiently–been awaiting a slow to emerge spring. I must confess to hoping and praying that spring would smile on me for my March birthday celebration, (and I did get my fondest wish!). Yet, while other gardeners were either frolicking in or grimacing over snow I could not complain, as, while waiting, I was once again blessed by being immersed in the splendor of the many camellias that grace this property. Their blossoming is one of my most prized annual treasures in this garden.

When it came to bringing them inside, ordinarily I have arranged them in various vases and placed them on tables and dressers throughout my home, which I have always very much enjoyed, as you might imagine.

But this year my dear friend, artist Eta, suggested I float them instead, which somehow had never occurred to me before. So I pulled out a couple of large bowls and began to play with this idea, excited by this perfect way of showcasing their beauty. Each week as new blossoms opened I found myself refreshing these bowls with red, pink and white gorgeousness, reminiscent of my delving into making flower mandalas, for, indeed, they served beautifully as a new form of mandala to appreciate and freshen and appreciate. And today I share with you to enjoy! I wish I knew the names of any of these camellias, but, alas, I do not. They have been here for decades and while I fertilize and occasionally prune back, though seldom, I simply stand in awe of their annual beauty with deep gratitude.

Last to bloom are these very charming large red ones. They always make me think of Mary Englebreit!

Lastly I share this one special camellia which was given center stage in this arrangement. It is one of the very few that carries the scent of a gardenia. It is so incredibly sweet. What a gift from this garden.

Are you enjoying the first blossoms in your garden? I do hope so!

Love and garden blessings,
Kathryn XOXO

Book Notes: As authors are inclined to do now and again, this morning I googled the title of my book Plant Whatever Brings You Joy: Blessed Wisdom from the Garden and was both surprised and very pleased and grateful that someone had been inspired to create a quote meme for one of the lessons in my book, which I here include for you to enjoy. It was showcased on a site featuring quote memes of well known and well read authors, so I was very touched and humbled.

Additionally, UK’s Fupping included Plant Whatever Brings You Joy in their article on books to read when you are lonely. Thanks to them!

Know Which Plants You Grow Well

Chanticleer and Henny Penny

Happy New Year, dearest readers. I thought I’d begin 2019 by sharing a favorite story from my book Plant Whatever Brings You Joy: Blessed Wisdom From the Garden. I do hope you will enjoy.

Know which plants you grow well.

(My love affair with chickens began when I was a small girl living in the undeveloped mountain terrain of Southern California. We lived on a farm, and we had horses, goats and a pen full of chickens, as well as a cat here and there and a cocker spaniel named Cherry. I don’t think we actually owned the dog, but she was often about. One very early photo of me shows me sporting a large ruffled sunbonnet, carrying a small woven basket, full to the brim with chicken eggs, which I had gathered myself.
I was the keeper of the chickens, the one who cared deeply about them. When they managed to scamper through holes in the fence I was the one who would track them down in the orchard, who caught them gently, and lovingly put them back where they belonged in the safety of their pen and flock.)
Simply put, I adore chickens, and, I know the value of a good rooster.
One such rooster was my beloved Chanticleer, whom I first spotted at the bottom of our road in the woods of Northern California. He was a marvelous little Bantam of abundant colors. Reddish browns and dark shimmering greens and iridescent blacks abounded in his full and splendid tail. But he was not alone. Not at all. He had the companionship of a rather scroungy white hen for whom he appeared to be caring. They had set up camp along a stream that emptied into a culvert below the adjacent road, apparently finding plenty to eat in the forest, and sleeping comfortably in trees for safety (or so they thought) at night. No one could account for where they might have come from, and no one really seemed to care. Chickens. What’s the fuss?
All my alarms were going off. Chickens alone in the woods! That can’t be! I bought chicken feed at the local feed store and caught their keen attention by daily tossing them a handful or two, all the while wondering what more I should do. Were they lost? Did they belong to someone? No one seemed to know, or care. I brought down a large wire cage from my property and set it near their little camp, placing corn just in front of the door. Each day I replenished the corn, trying to get them used to the idea that a cage might be a nice place to be.
One such morning I was saddened to see white feathers strewn along the road’s edge and the urgency of my mission heightened dramatically. This day I placed corn inside the cage. Then I tied a white cotton string to the door of the cage and walked several yards away. The little rooster was beside himself. He circled the cage again and again trying to figure out how to get the corn without entering the cage. Finally his hunger won out and he entered the cage and I softly drew the door shut by pulling on my end of the string. Not a happy fellow inside. Now how to get him home? I stood waiting, trusting, and within two minutes a woman I knew pulled up our road. I gave thanks, and flagged her down and she helped me place the cumbersome cage back into my truck and up the hill went my captive rooster to his new (and safe) abode.

Oil painting of Chanticleer by Marge Michael

A rooster. I own a rooster. I bought books, crash coursing on chickens. I learned chicken wire keeps chickens in, not predators out. You really have to lock down chickens at night. What to do?
By day Chanticleer was free to happily roam about the gardens. And when at dusk the wild turkeys alighted in the highest branches of the large pine trees that surrounded our property, taking refuge, I knew it was time for Chanti to go back into his (temporary) cage for the night. Not really knowing him well in regard to whether he would bite, I would shoo him around the garden with my long skirt, holding out the edges trying to direct him where I wanted him. (Where are the Border Collies when you need them?) Usually I won, but on occasion he would escape into a tree and I would have to rest content that probably no predator could get him there, and none did. I invited a young man from 4-H Club to my house and he taught me how to pick him up. Apparently people who work with chickens routinely pick them up by their feet and hold them upside down. And it works. Chickens become very still. (Wouldn’t you?) I personally found it demeaning, but it allowed me to see that Chanti was a good soul, and had no mean intentions. This gave me the courage to actually pick him up each evening, by simply placing my hands over his wings and holding them down to his sides. And thus began the strange chapter of putting him safely inside a small portable dog kennel at night (safe from all wild creatures), which I popped in the back of my closed truck until I rose early and set him free. Safe at last.
Having conquered my fear of my own rooster, I next went shopping for his new companion, our precious Henny Penny, a small brown Bantie hen sporting black and white polka dots, as cute as cute can be. Unfortunately, when I discussed my intentions for her with the feed store guys (always an infinite source of practical information) they warned me not to let the two of them out together! Why not? I asked. “You can’t have just one rooster and one hen! He’ll Wild Thing her to death!” Oh, my.
Eventually I took the chance and apparently Chanti was an old thing (you should have seen his feet) and slightly senile, as he would forget what he was doing half way through his occasional wild dance on Henny Penny’s back and his attention would divert on some tasty worm or bug making its way through the grass. And they would both continue on with whatever they had been doing just prior. They were charming beyond measure as they pecked and scratched their way through the nasturtiums and jasmine and oleander of the front gardens. They never strayed far, they always instinctively stayed under bushes or trees so as not to catch the attention of an overhead hawk or other predator. They dug large cool holes in the soft dirt and sunk their bodies into the damp earth, becoming very still. Occasionally I lost sight of them and I would run outside and call. “Henny Penny, where are you?” And I would hear the gentlest of clucking under a bush here or there, utterly enchanting.
There is great wisdom in the simple knowing what it is you love, that you do well.

May 2019 bring you much joy and many blessings.
Love and New Year’s blessings,
Kathryn xoxo
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