Happy New Year, Peony People! Hello, and welcome back to the wonderful world of peonies...in 2024! Another year has zipped by at warp speed. 2023 ended up being a year in which I peonied harder than any other. I travelled to two outstanding national peony conventions, visited a historical Albertan peony collection, connected and collaborated with remarkable individuals from whom I learned volumes, transferred 100 seedlings to an evaluation bed, exchanged and received plant material from notable hybridizers and peony people, and poured my heart and soul into volunteerism with the APS and CPS. My head is still spinning, but I can happily stroll into 2024 knowing that I lived a life with no regrets in 2023, and for that I am so grateful. Pantone Colour of The Year: Peach Fuzz Now it's time to look ahead to 2024, which has my heart racing and imagination soaring with thoughts of all the peony possibilities. A favourite activity of mine at this time of year is having a look at the selection for Pantone Color of the Year and finding cultivars with matching hues in my collection. For those unfamiliar, the Pantone Matching System is a standardized colour system that aids in colour matching and identification in graphic design, print, and manufacturing. As an authority on colour, Pantone also analyzes and forecasts global colour trends and selects the Pantone Color of the Year with these trends in mind. Some of the colour selections over the past half decade have had little application when it comes to the world of peonies (periwinkle, gray, blue, and violet being some of the hues chosen), but fortunately the selections for 2023 and 2024 have given us peony fanatics something to sink our teeth into. "Peach Fuzz" (PANTONE 13-1023) is described by Pantone as
"a cozy peach hue softly nestled between pink and orange" and "a warm and cozy shade highlighting our desire for togetherness with others and the feeling of sanctuary this creates."
Peach in Peonies: The Root of Enjoyment and Colour Properties
When it comes to peonies, peach hues have always held an irresistible allure for me. Perhaps this is because it's a colour tone not often seen in herbaceous cultivars; certainly, we can say that this colour is nowhere near as ubiquitous as the whites, pinks, and magentas that dominate the most commonly grown peonies that have been passed down through the generations. Another reason is that peach in peonies is delivered in a subtle, nuanced, and delicate brush stroke of colour that does not assault the eyes nor overwhelm the senses. Peach is a colour that seems to be transitory and ephemeral — a colour that exists as a phase of a continuum or progression towards a more permanent terminal colour and whose observational longevity is influenced by factors like temperature and sun exposure. Based on my observations, an overall peach effect appears to be produced by a layering of warm pink and yellow-cream tone pigments. The pink pigments appear to burn off or bleach in the sun first, leaving behind a behind a creamy yellow or off-white resting colour. The most relatable example of this comes from the coral cultivars (Charm, Sunset, Pink Hawaiian, Supreme, etc.); many people are astonished to watch for the first time as flowers transition from a radiant, piercing coral colour to a pastel peach to approaching white as the petals drop. Therefore, by nature this does not appear to be an entirely stable colour in peonies (or at least the ones I have grown, and I have not and cannot grow them all). Some cultivars like 'Athena' may display a peachy glow for a mere few hours if conditions are favourable, yet somehow this makes it all the more special and makes me yearn for it more. In this way, it mirrors the enjoyment of the peony as a whole, a spectacular flash in a pan that is made all the more impactful for its brief existence. Blink, and you can miss it.
Where to Start: Accessing Peach-Toned Cultivars
A query of the peony registry using the search term "peach" returns a 96 results of a total of ~7,500 peony entries. From that total, I removed lactifloras (which numbered 22 entries) on the basis that I don't think the production of a peach colour is possible with their genetics. Also removed were entries where the bloom in the registry image is clearly not peach and the term is being used to describe other parts of the flower or bud shape. This left only 19 woody peony entries, 3 Itoh entries, and 37 herbaceous hybrid entries. Keep in mind that this is not comprehensive or a perfect method to gauge how many cultivars display peach tones, as I can think of many more Itohs and herbaceous hybrids that pass through this colour range (some of which you will see below). What this does tell us, however, is that if you're looking to add this colour to your peony collection, you'll want to look at the woody, Itoh, and herbaceous hybrid groups of peonies. The Corals
I previously mentioned a number of coral cultivars, and the introduction of these plants to your collection is a great way to get a first glimpse of this colour in your garden; the coral cultivars remain accessible both in terms of availability of distribution and in cost. 'Coral Charm', 'Coral Sunset', 'Coral Supreme', 'Pink Hawaiian Coral' and 'Coral ‘n Gold' are some of the most popular coral cultivars, and it may not surprise you to learn that the most orange of these cultivars on the pink-orange coral spectrum, 'Coral Charm' and 'Coral Sunset', produce the best peach tones when fading. Surprisingly, 'Tropicana', an offspring of 'Coral Sunset' that is unmistakably hot pink, also produces a nice peach colour when fading. Included in the gallery below is a relative newcomer to the peony world: 'King's Day'. This unregistered peony is supposedly the result of a spontaneous mutation in 'Coral Sunset', and its flowers open straight away in the dreamy pastel peach hues that it takes other coral cultivars a day or two to achieve.
Peachy Peonies in My Collection
If you are a more adventurous peony purchaser, a dedicated hobbyist, or someone who doesn't bat an eye at the price tag of a plant when glamming up their garden, many interesting options open up to you that boast the benefits of perhaps a more complex or enduring peach colour or this hue being accompanied by a more refined double form, stronger stems, more vigor, or a better plant habit. Now comes the part I've been waiting for: show and tell! Explore some serious peony dream fuel in the galleries below. We'll take a look at the herbaceous hybrids, which account for the biggest chunk of my collection, and the Itohs.
Itohs As the pink/orange/yellow colour combination is quite prevalent in the Itoh group, and Itoh flowers with this colour combination phase through the peach zone, I've chosen to highlight just a few cultivars that I've found to be distinct because they have unique colour distribution ('Haleigh's Hallelujah', 'Joanna Marlene') or substantial doubling ('Danse du Feu'). Many more cultivars worth growing could have been included in this gallery.
Performance can be measured by many qualities. 'Heather', 'Kayleigh Ann', and 'Prosperity Maud' have shown me outstanding vigor and a willingness to rapidly increase. 'Heather' and 'Kayleigh Ann' have gorgeous, broad foliage that's extremely attractive even when plants aren't in bloom. 'Pastelorama' has shown me an incredible complexity of colour that I didn't think was possible in herbaceous peonies and is a treat to watch from opening to petal drop. 'Pastelegance', 'Lorelei', and 'Nelda's Joy' are all excellent landscape plants that do not require staking.
When I step back and take a look at the bigger picture, a clear winner emerges: 'Pastelegance'. This plant is remarkable on so many levels and proves its worth as one of the best peony cultivars in my garden year after year. Flowers are large with a divine, highly refined form, and are displayed on strong, self-supporting stems. A mature specimen in full bloom is truly breathtaking, and I highly recommend it as a flagship of your peony fleet.
Most of the Itohs have very rigid, self-supporting stems, making them a great choice for a terrific landscape plant. The smallest of differences is what separates the wheat from the chaff in this group — consistency in form, abundance of bloom, carriage of flowers, and a distinct appearance of the flowers are make or break qualities for me when deciding which Itohs deserve space in my garden. Of the cultivars previously mentioned, 'Joanna Marlene' is a bit shy with her blooms and enters early dormancy with bronzey-brown foliage, and 'Danse du Feu' has flowers that nod and buds that can split, though these are small complaints. You will likely be pleased with most cultivars in this peony group, but please feel to ask me for any further recommendations.
As present day hybridizers continue their work with peonies and further develop their breeding programs, we are certain to see a number of excellent and distinct peach-toned peonies introduced in the future. Hybridizers understand that peachy-hued plants are highly sought out for their unique colours, and the current limited pool of candidates provides opportunity for creativity and innovation. If stringent selection is carried out, these plants will surpass or provide unique value beyond what is available today. As supply starts to level out with demand, some of these highly sought out higher price point cultivars should slowly start to decrease in price and become more accessible (for reference, Pastelegance was purchased for around $200 USD in 2018 and now is around $160 USD). In many ways I like to think of peach peonies as the new yellow peonies.
Young peachy peonies in my possession that I have yet to see bloom are 'Anna', 'Europa', 'Patricia Jean', 'Romantic Dreamer' (see image above; not registered), and 'Triphena Parkin'. Some peach peonies I would like to obtain are 'Apricot Whisper', 'Soft Apricot Kisses', 'Louise Godin' 'Nikita', 'Northrepps', 'Southrepps', and 'Solveigs Lied'. If anyone has these in Canada and is willing to exchange plant material, please get in touch. Fun Stuff
Here are a couple of peach-hued peony seedlings I laid eyes on this year: 'Betty Spaghetti', exhibited by Cory Tischman and Jeff Delaney at the APS 2023 convention flower exhibition, and 'W11', a Bill Wegman seedling that resides at Whistling Gardens.
Craig Aiken of New York has shared an image of a gorgeous unnamed seedling that he grew from seed from the APS Seed Distribution Program. Thanks, Craig! I look forward to seeing more of and hearing about this seedling in the future. If anyone has any seedlings or peach cultivars that I did not touch on in this article, please get in touch with me as I would love to hear your experience and view your images.
The opinions reflected in this blog entry are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of the organizations with which I volunteer.
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