Most of us have peonies blooming in May and June. Some people that live in warmer climates will already have flowers in April and those in (very) cold climates will have them in July. Of course you could also grow some very early species to have peonies earlier or use a refrigerator to store the flowers for later use. But to have them in the garden flowering some two months after the normal season is something that few of us will have experienced. Still, this is such an experience I’d like to share here.
Back in 2014 we had the unfortunate event that a severe hailstorm hit us spot-on just at the end of the peony flowering season (June 7th). There was a whole lot of damage, no need to go into details, but none of the above ground foliage and stems of my peonies remained. At the time I grew about 300 different varieties of peonies, mostly herbaceous hybrids and lactifloras, next to some intersectionals and shrubby peonies. None of them was lost due to the event, they all flowered the following year, although several of them with fewer stems and flowers. Remarkably Coral Sunset flowered better the next season thanks to the fact that the leaf nematodes that were present didn’t have a chance of dispersing themselves from the buds to the foliage below it, which was one of two nice suprises. The other surprise was that there was one variety that started growing again, growing strong and flowering some two months later in the midst of Summer. That variety was the intersectional Canary Brilliants.
I didn’t have too many plants of it at the time, so the following year (after seeing there was no damage to them), they were dug, divided and replanted. Now, 2018, we are three years later, they have grown into large mature plants (about 160 of them) and I though the time right to do some ‘repeat’ experimenting. Thus right after flowering, June 6th, I took out my ‘mowing’-machine and mowed 100 of them flat. Not an easy task as there were many partly woody stems as is usually the case with intersectionals. Not a single leaf was left, otherwise the plants might not be triggered to start growing again from their secondary buds.
And indeed, a few weeks later, the new buds started growing. We did have very unusually hot weather this Summer with nearly always day temperatures of 30-35°C (86°F-95°F) with some outliers at 38°C (100°F) some days. This will not happen every year of course, I live in Belgium, not in Greece or Italy. At around July 23 they started flowering, right up until the end of that month, thus some 45 days after mowing down. I suppose in a normal year, they will start flowering at the beginning of August and will flower for about two weeks as Canary Brilliants does during a normal season. There are not as many flowers as in May/June, but I got an average of 5 flowers per plant, which is not too bad I would think (and I suppose if the weather were not as hot, more buds would have developed). The stems are a little less sturdy, but still more than sturdy enough as you would expect from an intersectional. The flower bud now is rounded, whilst in May/June they were for the most part pointed and only the very last ones had round buds then. The flower size and stem length are as usual. As anyone will know that has used intersectionals as cut flowers, they tend to open rather fast and their vase life is somewhat less compared to usual peony cut flowers. The fast opening is something that cannot easily be resolved, surely when temperatures are as high as they were this year, but when you remove nearly all the foliage (up until the bud with perhaps one small upper leaf remainig (and the ‘involucrate bract’ against the bud itself)) they do have a good vase life (when placed out of sun and sheltered from wind of course).
Unfortunately no other intersectional but Canary Brilliants has shown this phenomenon, thus I’m currently restricted to only one peony variety. Other intersectionals that were growing here and thus don’t give a second blooming season when mowed down: Garden Treasure, Bartzella, Cora Louise, First Arrival, Momo Taro, Hillary, Callie’s Memory, Millennium. Perhaps there are other intersectionals that might be usable, but I have not been buying many new ones the last years.
The nice thing about Canary Brilliants compared to many of the other ones is that the bud, when opened indoors, has a nice orange cast to it, something which quickly disappears outside due to sunshine and turning the flowers to yellow. It also flowers over a long period, is very floriferous, has sturdy stems and is tall and upright. An extra bonus is that is has a very agreeable strong fragrance. It thus makes a good cutflower even if it weren’t for this reblooming capability.
I also mowed down some plants about a month later, July 1st. But, although every plant also grew again, not many of them made flowers again. Only about 1 in every 3 plants gave me 1 flower, which is a bit too few to make it worthwile I would think.
It remains to be seen whether one could repeat this each and every year without damage to the plants. But if not so, then perhaps once every two years might also be a viable commercial option if you grow them for cutflowers. I will be digging them again in October and I’ll see if there’s any difference between my different treatments (I left some of them as they were and didn’t mow them down). It might be an interesting niche for some commercial cutflower growers or for some gardeners as well to have peonies blooming when only Alaska has them in flower.