In the garden: This peony delivers! |

In the garden: This peony delivers!

Anna Naeser
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

BASALT – The gorgeous yellow peony flower shattered when summer arrived last week, but I have pictures to prove I didn’t imagine it.

Three years ago, I succumbed to the lure of a peony described as the Rolls-Royce of peonies, with a price to match. Offered in the Plant Delights Nursery catalog, it bears the ugly but memorable name of Paeonia Bartzella, a type of hybrid only developed within my lifetime, called an intersectional. Intersectional peonies are the result of crossing herbaceous peonies with tree peonies, originally in search of the elusive yellow that was something of a holy grail to peony growers.

Herbaceous peonies are yard and garden staples, but the tree peonies, which are really shrubs, are less familiar. I know them only from illustrations. In their ancestral home, China, they are the most esteemed of flowers and references to their cultivation go back to the first millennium BC! In fact, the tree peony is the national flower of China.

It was the search for a tree peony for my garden that led me to Bartzella. This 1986 hybrid is supposed to get three feet tall and wide at maturity, with up to 80 (yes, 80) fully double, lightly lemon-scented nine-inch flowers that hold up in the rain and open in succession over six weeks. And that color, oh, my. I was embarrassed to tell Gerry that I had blown the year’s garden budget on a single plant. So unlike me.

The careful site prep was also unlike me. Gerry dug up a box bed in the sunny timber retaining wall, incorporating lots of compost. Fall is the best time to plant but my container grown plant was shipped in early May. I set it in the ground at the same depth as in the container (if bareroot, the dormant buds should be an inch or two below the surface), spread straw around it and watered and weeded all summer. My hopes shriveled with the leaves as they sunburned, but it came up last spring on schedule and grew into a nice clump of lovely, deeply cut dark green leaves. My hopes rekindled. Then this spring, a single bud appeared and slowly plumped up. At last, Bartzella unfurled glorious clear yellow petals without a tinge of gold or brass, with the subtlest of reddish flares near its heart. It was thrilling and absolutely worth every minute of time and every penny spent on it.

Anna gardens with her husband, Gerry, in Basalt.

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