New Peonies! Lovely And Mysterious

Two and a half years ago I acquired a couple of peonies through a members-only sale of my local chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society (NARGS). You may not realize this, but most rock gardeners get interested in alpine plants after years of gardening experience. They are all plant geeks and expert (or at least, better than average) at starting plants from seed, because the best alpine plants aren’t offered by the local garden center and NARGS has an awesome seed exchange. So even if you aren’t a rock gardener (and I’m not), you will find great plants at their plant sales.

So these peonies weren’t run-of-the-mill peonies. The member donating them to the plant sale was also a volunteer at Cornell Botanic Gardens (formerly called Cornell Plantations) and was on hand when they were digging up their entire peony collection and moving it to a different location. As you might imagine, there were pieces left over, and whether they were expressly offered to the volunteers, or the staff looked the other way when the compost pile was picked over, I don’t know.

All I know for certain is that at the August 2014 members-only sale, ‘White Innocence’ was offered and I was willing to pay the price (much lower than retail) and got my name on the list before they were all spoken for. When it came time for digging later in the fall, I was also offered a second peony of uncertain identity, which I gladly accepted. This is the first year they are blooming.

White Innocence peony

‘White Innocence’ was bred by A.P. Saunders, who lived about an hour away from where I live. It is tall for a peony, attaining 4 feet and even taller. The flowers are pure white.

As lovely as ‘White Innocence’ is, the second peony enchanted me even more.

Early Daybreak peony

‘Early Daybreak’, ‘Early Sunrise’, ‘Mermaid’, and ‘Early Dawn’ are all names suggested by the donor of this peony.

‘Early Sunrise’ doesn’t appear to be a valid cultivar name. I couldn’t find a valid image for ‘Mermaid’, but it’s described in the Peony Registry as a “single flower of palest lavender.” This peony is pink, not lavender, and to my eye looks semi-double, not strictly single. ‘Early Dawn’ is “rose red,” so that’s not it.

possibly Early Daybreak peony

That leaves ‘Early Daybreak’ as a possible name.

‘Early Daybreak’ is described in the registry as “Single – White – Hybrid. Old ivory flushed rose. Very sturdy grower. Quadruple hybrid, albiflora, Officinalis, macrophylla, Mlokosewitschi.” It’s another Saunders peony with a complicated parentage. That appeals to me.

Problem #1: the color. I would describe the peony I have as pink with just a suggestion of coral. But I noticed the longer it was in bloom, the paler it got.

Early Daybreak peony half closed

Perhaps in a climate warmer than mine, it bleaches out and appears even paler, “ivory flushed with rose.” Another charming attribute of this peony is that it folded up its petals every evening and opened them up again in the morning–even in a vase.

Problem #2: the number and shape of the petals. Do you see above how there is more than one layer of petals? And the edges of the petals are notched?

Cornell Early Daybreak peony

Cornell’s own image of ‘Early Daybreak’ shows much paler petals, and the number and texture of them seem quite different, too.

They have an image of the overall plant on their website, and the habit of that plant is very different from mine, which is almost as tall as ‘White Innocence’ and not nearly as compact as the image in Cornell’s image gallery. This image most closely matches the color–but the petals still don’t look right. The image at this website gets the number of petals right and has the notches–but the color is much paler than my flowers. However, they describe it as “shell pink,” which I think is pretty apt.

Of course, I still enjoy this peony even if I don’t know its name. But since it will be years before it will bulk up enough that I would consider dividing and sharing it, I would like to know its true name so I can tell my admiring friends what to search for. Next winter I will go through Tom Fischer’s article on Saunders’ peonies and look up all the peonies in his pink list at the bottom of the article. That’s assuming my peony was bred by Saunders, which it may not have been. (Did you notice ‘Early Daybreak’ is listed in the white section?)

In the topmost image, the first peony is ‘Bev’, one that I’ve had for quite a while, then ‘Early Daybreak’ (presumed), then ‘White Innocence’.

Inspired by the words of Elizabeth Lawrence, “We can have flowers nearly every month of the year,” Carol of May Dreams Gardens started Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. On the 15th of every month, garden bloggers from all over the world publish what is currently blooming in their gardens. Check it out at May Dreams Gardens.

from Cold Climate Gardening


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