Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.
It is peony time in the Flower Garden and their pink, white and red—even yellow—blooms, have been popping open in every bed.
There are many species of peonies, native to various parts of the world, but the familiar garden peony (Paeonia lactiflora) has only ever been seen in its cultivated form. Raised in China by skilled gardeners many centuries ago, it is most likely that wild species were deliberately hybridized to produce varieties with a huge range of flower shape, color and scent.
Introduced to Europe in the early 19th century, the garden peony was originally referred to as the “white peony” because the white flowers of many of the early introductions. (Lactiflora indicates milk-colored flowers.) Breeders in France and Britain soon took up the process of raising new varieties by further hybridization and selection.
The French horticulturist François Félix Crousse (1840‒1925) raised several that are still grown today, including the pink-flowered ‘Monsieur Jules Ellie’, the deep-red ‘Felix Crousse’ and, one of our favorites, the lovely ‘Madame de Verneville’.
‘Mme. de Verneville’ has massive, white flowers that are flecked with odd splashes of deep crimson and possesses a strong, rose-like scent.
She and her many companions are at their peak this week and are well worth a visit.