The year 2021 is nearing its end. The last peonies shall be planted soon whilst only a few plants remain with green foliage. So, after some years, it might be an idea to look back onto the previous peony season.
Let’s start with some of the results of our own limited hybridizing program with peonies. We have two lines that we are following. The first is adding more genetic diversity through the use of some wild species. That is where progress is most difficult due to several reasons and although I spend as much time working on this project as on the second one I can only report, after a decade’s work, that a very few seedlings with P. parnassica survived and are at least growing well. I expect the first ones to bloom next season so I’ll report on them then.
The second line of hybridizing is a more usual one: crossing some hybrids amongst themselves. Here we have several hundred seedlings currently growing. We started with some of the usual suspects some 10 years ago: Salmon Dream, Pastelegance, Blushing Princess, Pink Vanguard, The Little Corporal, Vanilla Schnapps and so on. These were crossed with some lesser-known varieties like Lavender Baby, Buoy Master and Grand Massive amongst others. Any hybridizer will know that most seedlings end up on the compost pile but out of all seedlings that we’ve produced in these years a few stand out. This year the very best ‘new’ one is a second generation seedling from the cross Pink Vanguard x Buoy Master, which is currently going under the designation “PVBM F2 003”. It’s a pale pink double flower with very large well closed buds on a nice upright plant of average height. If it remains good the following years it will be a prime candidate to be named for my daughter Kato. Here are some pictures of it and its possible namesake:
The season of peonies itself this year was a very challenging one. We had one of the coldest Springs/Summers in memory and also one of the wettest ones. This resulted in a constant threat of botrytis infections unlike other years. We did manage it quite well but if you would go round asking florists what they would think of the season I’m sure “poor average quality this year” would be a common answer.
In our polytunnels we also had high relative humidity due to this and this resulted in quite a few lost stems, no matter how much we sprayed and vented them. Spraying this year was done with some new “green” products. We tried Bacillus amyloliquefaciens as a fungicide (commercialized here as ‘Serenade’ and ‘Toreda’). Together with Trichoderma harzianum spores (“Triaphos”, “Trianum”) and Beauveria bassiana fungi (“Botanigard”) to control pests. We did rotate with the common fungicide/nematicide fluopyram (“Luna”) because resistance to these green products is unfortunately also quite common and thus those ‘green’ products on their own would eventually fail. Botrytis infection remained manageable this way, although less good than previous years where we used only common chemicals, but that may also be due to the unusually bad weather. We’ll see if next year gives better results.
Due to the cold and wet weather peonies flowered two weeks later than previous years and this resulted in sky-high prices early in the season. May clearly set an average price record for cut peony flowers. June on the other hand had a short spell of warm weather and, as would be expected, everything flowered at the same time, resulting in lower than average prices later in the season, with prices not recovering during Summer as they usually do. Taken together this resulted in an average season, but one does see that ‘averages’ can hide ‘extremes’.
The Ultra Low Oxygen (ULO) stored peonies were quite a disaster this year. It being the third season we tried this we thought we had all ingredients to make a success out of it. But in fact, out of the 8,000-9,000 stems we stored this way, we had to throw away some 7,000 stems in August due to botrytis. It’s not stretching the truth to say I was rather disappointed. I’ll report on this in another article when I have all results from the research centre available as well (they didn’t fare much better).
So far for our cut flower overview. Perhaps I should mention that our friendly neighbor did make a short movie with his drone flying over (part of) our fields. It might be interesting to have a look:
Were there any interesting cultivars this year? We were impressed by Nancy, a single pink flower but with enormous leaflets and standing straight up on incredible stout stems. It’s a lesser known advanced hybrid with P. macrophylla clearly showing its influence.
Our own Rozella mutation “Pale Rozella” (to be renamed) was also impressive. The qualities of Rozella are well-known: sturdy stems and large flowers late in the season. The mutation is also characterized by these but has a more attractive color (at least in my opinion). The mutation seems stable by now, so we can finally start propagating it.
To end we might show a plant that holds much promise for further hybridizing. This is B-3, from the cross Bartzella x Lemon Chiffon, thus an intersectional backcross. Not my cross, but the hybridizer, preferring to remain anonymous for now, sent me a plant to work with. The intersectionals are quite resistant to botrytis, but their flowers are not particularly useful as cut flowers due to their very short vase life (caused by their stocky stems). It is hoped that we can go further developing peony varieties that have the same disease resistance, but with better vase life.
And so we come to the end of this article. For those interested in hybridizing peonies, I could advise joining the ‘hybridizer’s corner’ of this website. If you would like to review and share your own peony season, feel free to do so.