I TOOK IT AS A DARE when nurseryman Tony Avent named Paeonia ostii as one of his “plants that need a good P.R. person,” meaning ones more of us should grow—but don’t. How could I not order it, when he said things like, “It’s the best tree-peony species that exists,” or that his 6-foot-tall plant covers itself in 250ish giant, fragrant flowers early each spring?
I had never heard of Paeonia ostii, which a mutual friend, nurseryman and longtime peony expert Roy Klehm, had alerted Tony to, meaning it had to be good. One of the last tree species to come into cultivation, in the early 1990s, P. ostii is from China, where it is endangered in the wild—but will grow as well in the Southeast as it will in Minnesota (from Zones 4a to 8b at least).
My plant was young but blooming-size when it arrived in 2012, was thigh-high by 2015 with a dozen flowers—fast-growing for a tree peony—and as of bloom season 22 is well past my waist with even more. It seems to ask for nothing but a spot in the sun, and every part of the plant is beautiful, from the fine-textured leaves to the flower buds (all with delicate hints of red).
Seed for P. ostii is hard to find, says Tony, so sometimes it’s sold out–but then another stash of seed is scored and gets sown in the Plant Delights greenhouses, in hopes of offering it again in the next catalog, a January later.
“Emphasis on hope,” said Tony back in 2015, who hoped the seedlings got the memo stating the January target date, and marked their calendars–which they did, thankfully, that year. Mission accomplished.
I’m hoping for another ostii myself, but not impatiently, because to my mind: It’s not just a plant in need of a good P.R. person, but also a plant worth waiting for. I’ll keep checking back.