Itoh Peonies (Part Three)

Itoh peonies are a hybrid combining the hardiness and habit of herbaceous peonies.

Sara Williams

Itoh peonies, a hybrid combining the hardiness and habit of herbaceous peonies with the colour range, flower size and extended flowering period of the tree peonies, are a relative newcomer to the prairies.

The story of their development is one of persistence and tenaciousness on the part of their first breeder, Dr. Toichi Itoh (pronouced Ee-toe), a Japanese nurseryman and plant breeder. His goal: to create a pure yellow herbaceous peony. Dr. Itoh pollinated more than 1,200 peony plants before obtaining 36 seedlings in 1948 after successfully crossing the yellow hybrid tree peony with a double-flowered, white herbaceous peony.

Nine of these seedlings resembled tree peonies. Sadly, he died in 1956 before any of them came into flower. His son-in-law, Shiagao-Oshida, continued his work and four plants were selected for introduction. Until then, there were no true deep yellow herbaceous peonies.

In 1974, an American horticulturist and breeder, Louis Smirnov, who had served as a president of the American Peony Society, learned about this amazing breakthrough. He made arrangements with Dr. Itoh’s widow to import these plants and register them with the American Peony Society.

Over the last few decades, several American peony breeders have made significant introductions. When first introduced, some of these peonies sold for as much as $1,000 per division! But with modern mass propagation techniques, prices have become more affordable.

Itoh peonies bloom from late spring to early summer. Colours include white, pinks, reds, golden yellow, copper red and orange, often with contrasting flares at the base of the petals. Many are fragrant. They have attractive, finely cut foliage and strong stems that rarely if ever, need support and are extremely vigorous. The rounded bushes are about 90 x 90 cm (3 x 3 ft). Their care is similar to that of garden peonies.

Among the hardy varieties are:


‘Kopper Kettle’ has semi-double to double, copper-orange (with occasional yellow streaks) flowers with dark centres on plants 60 to 90 cm (24 – 36 in.) high.

‘Singing in the Rain’ has semi-double, apricot blooms that appear light orange upon opening and fade to yellow, giving the plant a multi-coloured appearance. Lightly fragrant, it is very floriferous with many side-buds, blooming in mid-season. It is 90 to 120 cm (35-50 in.) high.


‘Cora Louise’ has single or double flowers of pale lavender fading to pure white with lavender flares. Flat in form, they bloom in mid-season on strong stems 60 cm (24 in.) in height.

‘Morning Lilac’ is single to semi-double with lavender-fuchsia-pink flowers with dark purple and white streaking, flowering in mid-season. Plants are 65 to 70 cm (26 – 28 in.) tall.

‘Visions of Sugar Plums’ has large single flowers of a soft pink blending to a deeper pink at the petal edge. Each petal has huge, plum-colored flares towards the center. Blooming in midseason, it has a height of about 75 cm (30 in.).

‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ has semi-double to occasionally double, rose-form flowers of an  attractive deep pink with cream undertones that fade slightly as the flowers mature. They are 15 cm (6 in.) in diameter, of good substance with a pleasant fragrance and bloom in mid-season. Floriferous, they have 2-3 buds per stem on plants 90 cm (36 in.) in height.


‘Bartzella’ has large (15 to 20 cm /6-8 in. diameter), fragrant semi-double to double, soft sulphur yellow flowers with red flares. Floriferous and of good substance, they bloom mid to late season on strong 80 cm (32 in.) stems.

‘Garden Treasure’ has semi-double, bright yellow petals with small scarlet flares. It is very vigorous and flowers over a long period in mid to late season with up to 3 blooms per stem on plants of 75 cm (30 in.) in height.  It is a Gold Medal winner.

‘Sequestered Sunshine’ has single to semi-double, canary yellow flowers 12.5 to 18 cm (5-7 in.) in diameter with white carpals tipped with red stigmas and a ring of yellow stamens. Flowering in mid-season, it is fragrant and vigorous. Plants are 65 to 75 cm (25-30 in.) high.

‘Smith Family Yellow’ has semi-double to double (30-50 petals) flowers of a clear deep yellow with small red flares that are up to 20 cm (8 in.) in diameter with very good substance. It is a vigorous and floriferous plant with 2-3 buds per stem, strong stems, and mild fragrance blooming in mid-season. Plants are 70 cm (28 in.) tall.

Sara Williams is the author of many books including Gardening Naturally with Hugh Skinner, Creating the Prairie Xeriscape, and with Bob Bors, Growing Fruit in Northern Gardens. She gives workshops on a wide range of gardening topics throughout the prairies.

This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; Check our website ( or Facebook page ( for a list of upcoming gardening events.