Tree Peony Time

ezra pound tree peony

Ezra Pound, my latest adventure in tree peonies. There are purple flares inside but it rained hard the day Ezra opened and that was the end of that.

I have to say I’ve never had good luck with tree peonies, but that may not mean much;  in 40 years of gardening I’ve only had three of them.

The first, an unnamed white, did beautifully for about a decade, growing ever larger and ever more floriferous – until it went into a rapid decline for reason or reasons unknown.

white tree peony

The white tree peony in the Maine white garden, at about 5 years old

Next came a weed-buried mystery, discovered after we moved into the Hudson Valley house.

Paltry and flowerless when we found it, under Bill’s tender care it grew – slowly, in the manner of tree peonies – into a huge bush, covered each spring with silk tissue flowers 6 to 8 inches wide. Magenta, unfortunately, but you can’t have everything.

You also can’t have the tree peony, if you have to dig it up and move it in the middle of the summer so you can get at the well pipe it was planted next to.

It hung on in the new spot for a few years but never really recovered, and when we moved it again it croaked.

Insert a gap of many years, during which I got more and more interested in species peonies. But then I was ordering a bunch of new garden peonies and what the heck, here comes Ezra.

So far, same old same old. His first summer was last year – cold, dark and miserable. The plant, small to begin with, barely hung on. No new wood added. This spring, all woody stems except one five-incher were dead. Grumble.

But then, lots of healthy new growth from the roots! A good sized extension of the woody stem, with a big fat bud attached! Another bud, much lower on the stalk! And then the propane-delivery guy whacked off the extension by dragging the heavy hose over it. He saw the teepee of protective stakes and tried to avoid the plant, but somehow my cranky tree peony gods guided his subsequent movements.

Hope springs eternal however; the rest of the new growth is still in fine shape. And this weekend is super garden show Trade Secrets, in Sharon CT., a reliable source of rare peonies – if you get there early.

Garden Tour Alert: Ezra Pound was hybridized by William Gratwick lll, a major luminary of tree peony breeding. The fabulous collection he built lives on at his estate, still in family hands. The gardens are open just a few days a year, starting this very weekend: the 2010 season begins with a preview on May 15.  If you are anywhere near Rochester, New York,  it’s worth a special journey. Garden and tour information is here.

Nomenclature disclaimer: No, I have no idea why Mr. Gratwick decided to name this beautiful plant after the brilliant poet/notorious fascist sympathizer, nor have I been able to learn the answer by googling. Please write and tell us if you know.

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  • Tatiana Said,

    I’m scared to tackle what I perceive to be high maintenance plants, ie roses and peonies, but am stunned at their gorgeousness.

  • Well, of course, I had to try and follow this Ezra Pound trail, and learned (OK, no doubt I should have known this), that Pound was a notable translator of Chinese poetry. (Among the poems, I gather, was one entitled “The Red Peony,” though I’ve not found it as of yet.) Of course, the peony named for Pound was white, but I feel a possible connection may exist. Apparently Gratwick tended to give his peonies more Oriental names like ‘Guardian of the Monastery’ or ‘Sea of Tranquility’. Gratwick seems to have been quite a clever fellow, so perhaps from “oriental” monikers to Ezra Pound is not such a long leap for him. This may be only the second time in my life (the other for the George Eastman House) that I wished I lived nearer Rochester . . .

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