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!

6 Responses to “The Timeless Magic of Itoh Peonies”

  1. So happy to read about the peony history! I have one in a pot that is struggling…came to me from friends in Placerville. I had put it in the ground in a shaded spot and it was not happy. Dug it up, stuck it in the pot and still waiting to replant it. I see, in your post, they like sun so will try once again.

    Kathryn, do the tree peonies die back completely in the winter or just lose their leaves?

  2. Good morning, Carol! The herbaceous peony does, indeed, dies back in winter and re-emerges in spring, but the tree peony does not get cut back in winter as it sprouts anew from the woody part of the plant. I bet yours will do well in the sun! Good luck! Kathryn xoxo

  3. Wow. What a find! How beautiful! Fascinating story, too. 🙂

  4. Thanks Kathryn…now I’ll be searching for a TREE!

  5. They truly are exquisite, Antonia! Happy to introduce you to them! Love, Mom xoxo

  6. Carol, you are most welcome. Also see if you might like the itoh peony. I’m not familiar with Sonoma nurseries, but you will be. 🙂 Good luck!

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