Ballerina is a peony bred by A.P. Saunders in 1941 from the cross Wittmanniana x Lactiflora ‘Lady Alexandra Duff’. This one is in fact a difficult cross as Saunders himself would put it:
“This (wittmanniana, kh) is a plant which does not do well under the conditions I offer it. It is not widely listed and I think never has been; it was therefore always somewhat difficult to obtain, and this, combined with the difficulty of keeping it growing and alive in the garden, has meant that I have never at any time had many blooms to work with. Added to this is the fact that the cross is not one that takes with great ease, and hardly at all in the reverse direction. M. Lemoine reported to me that he had never had any luck with the reverse cross, but that his hybrids were the result of wittmanniana pollen on albiflora (now lactiflora, kh). He produced four lovely things and gave them lovely names: Avant Garde, Le Printemps, Mai Fleuri, and Messagere; they are not so well known as they deserve to be, although this may be because they inherit wittmanniana’s delicate constitution.”
The official registration describes it as ‘greenish yellow’ which is quite an accurate description I think. It really is an excellent plant and probably my favorite double hybrid of the early generations (a generation earlier than Blushing Princess and far healthier and easier to grow). I have read reports of it not growing well in the US, but here it is extremely healthy and fast growing. Just look at the picture below to see how a row of this variety looks like (the handsome boy next to it is my little son, now somewhat more of age).
Ballerina has quite some good assets: it is very double, of a unique and very attractive color, early flowering, floriferous, healthy bush habit, incredibly attractive bud presentation. In fact the only drawback I could see is that the last 10 cm under the bud is quite lax up until flowering, which renders it useless as a cutflower. That last part of the stem does become stiff after flowering and the flowers don’t hang whilst in bloom, so as a garden plant there’s not a single negative remark. With all the good characteristics it would make a prime candidate for further hybridizing you might think, but after all these years not a single offspring was ever registered from Ballerina. I’ve tried to use it in my hybridizing program, but alas, to no avail. Several hundred crosses have resulted in only one single seed, which hasn’t germinated as yet. It’s pollen is completely unusable and its seed setting capacities are thus not much better. Still, if ever a seed could be produced that resulted in a plant with better fertility, that might be a very interesting plant.
Some final remarks: it is quite susceptible when it comes to hot water treatment, I’ve lost about two thirds of my plants due to this. And last, but not least, there’s another plant in the trade that goes by the name ‘Ballerina, a double pink lactiflora, so if you need this fantastic herbaceous hybrid bred by Saunders, be sure to order the correct one.