Yes, it does look encouraging, next year I’ll be able to judge it better, some of the larger divisions should have grown into good looking plants by then. It was a ‘lucky shot’ and it won’t count as an early white though, as it’s purely lactiflora. It might be a rather early flowering lactiflora, but it doesn’t flower with the early hybrids. A good early double white is still what I’m trying to hybridize for, something you also seem to reach for.
Some crosses give far better results on average I would agree (seedlings from Blushing Princess are also generally better than crosses without it at my place). From your numbers only 1 in 40 from Lemon Chiffon for a second round of evaluations is indeed far less compared to the crosses with Blushing Princess. I don’t grow Lemon Chiffon, it used to be very expensive and at that price I opted for other varieties. Also the fact that to my feeling every hybridizer was using it, put me off somewhat. So I can’t say whether it would be a good parent. I’ve no doubt that it’s a good seed setter and it may have a good bush habit. But I’ve also heard people say that it does tend to have some open buds, that the flowers aren’t always very full and that the flowers open very fast (a bit like Coral Sunset). For garden plants those might not be the most important things, but as for cutflowers they are somewhat problematic. Thus I’ve been using Vanilla Schnapps instead for several years when it comes to a yellow herbaceous one. I have some seedlings growing from Vanilla Schnapps x Buoy Master (a good early single white), but they are still small and the few ones flowering weren’t white.
The best results for white currently I got from Pink Vanguard x Buoy Master. Some 40 seedlings of them gave me 4 good plants for a second round of evaluation. They have grown one year after division and we’re down to three as of the two good single whites, one is clearly better than the other. The other two are very good (semi)-doubles, but pale pink. Perhaps I should reiterate this cross, but I’ve since acquired Grand Massive and I tend to use that one now instead of Buoy Master. Grand Massive is mentioned in another post and I consider it currently the best early white, the flower is pure white both in bud and flower, very floriferous, extremely early and it propagates very fast. There’s room for improvement of course: the petals are somewhat ‘ragged’ at the edges and it’s more a semi-double than a double. But of course ‘the best peony’ is always the best only for as long as something better comes our way. I have crossed it with many things, Old Faithful amongst others and also Belleville, a large lactiflora which is one of the parents of Command Performance. The seedlings thereoff are still small and not very numerous. As an aside, I had to put pollen on many, many flowers of Belleville to get only a few seeds, a bit unexpected as it used to be known as ‘Harold Wolfe Lacti seeder’…
I don’t know what other plants could be used as good parents for early double whites? Greenland here didn’t appeal to me very much, the stems were somewhat crooked under the weight of the very heavy (and, admittedly, very pretty) flowers. Campagna I’ve tried but never got any seeds both ways. White Vanguard I thought the stems way too lax (but there’s another, reportedly better, peony under the same name). White Doves has been a candidate for some time thanks to its earliness and pure white buds, but by the time I started my first controlled crosses I already had Buoy Master which I preferred as that one does have foliage down to the ground (much as Salmon Dream does). All white lactifloras flower too late.
Then there’s the white species, some of those are also very early. I’ve got an extremely early white ‘caucasica’, I thought it quite unique until I recently disovered P. caucasica ‘alba’ isn’t too rare at all, it appears in several facebook groups. But it’s a weak plant, lost many of them after division and the pollen of it didn’t give me a single seed on all peony varieties I’ve tried (even very fertile ones like Pink Vanguard, Dreamtime, and so on). P. mascula hellenica is also early and very pretty, although the edges of the petals are pink at first opening. After many efforts I finally got the first (few) seeds from its pollen this year. P. mascula bodurii I’ve also tried many times to no avail. That one might be the most interesting one as it is a week earlier than P. mascula hellenica and can cope better with our climate (I’ve lost several hellenica due to drought in Summer that made them die off above ground then followed by lots of rain in late Summer). Of course there’s also P. emodi, but that one has small and hanging flowers, not exactly what I’m looking for. Some others are P. obovata/japonica/willmottiae but I don’t grow them and I guess they can’t take full sun very well. I’m sure there are also others, but those are the ones I have or am thinking of.
I do wonder whether it would be an idea to exchange pollen? That is much easier than sending plants (although I got my envelopes with pollen back that I had sent to the USA this year) and also a possibility to work fast with new plants. I did create a forum ‘plant exchange’ that isn’t being used (still too few members, but the site is only half a year old), but it could also be used for that purpose. This year I received pollen from P. parnassica to work with. I do have my own very small plant of P. parnassica but by looking at the size of it, it will take another three years at least before I would get my first own flower of it (if it survives, usually it doesn’t). Exchanging pollen would make it easier to start with a larger ‘gene pool’ which is, if I’m not mistaken, one of the requirements for a good hybridizing program. The APS does have a good seed exchange program, perhaps this site should start that pollen exchange program?
Well, all the best in the meantime,
Growing peonies for cutflowers in Belgium. Also hybridizing them.