a plant I’d order: the tree peony paeonia ostii

paeonia ostiii detailI 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).

p. ostii foliageMy 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).

paeonia ostii budSeed 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.

  1. cheri says:

    OK I have over 75 peony. Now I find a new site that has a boat load that I don’t have. I’m going to have to buy the neighbors house just to expand the garden. ;-)

    1. margaret says:

      Yes, the Song Sparrow (Klehms’) collection is quite deep, isn’t it? They have been at it a long time!

  2. Tibs says:

    I lust after tree peaonies. I’ve killed 2 so far. I’ve given up and stick to herbecious ones. But maybe I should try again. Third time’s the charm.

    1. Jan says:

      I’ve got a lovely white that although crowded, fights for it’s space, holds it’s own and blooms every year in old Hillsdale. Wish I could send you a pic!

  3. Mathew says:

    I bought and planted my first peony last year! It’s a yellow variety called Bartzella. I thought it had died over winter, as I was very tardy in getting it planted, waiting until November last year. But, it budded out nicely and is now about knee-high. I hope it flowers this year and I am very excited!

    1. karen harrell says:

      A dear friend gave me a bartzella but it was dug in the Spring. I thought it was lost as it barely came up the next spring. I decided to move it in the fall and made three plants. This year I have three blooms on two of the plants; four on the other. It is beginning to open and by Memorial weekend it will be a site to behold.

      Enjoy yours and I hope you have good luck. They seem to be very hardy as I live in Maine and the severe winter was just what the doctor ordered.

  4. Michelle in WI, Zone 5b says:

    Oh my gosh, can I please live at the Klehm farm every spring. I have never seen such a collection of peonies.

  5. Margaret says:

    I LOVE tree peonies!! I was so fortunate when I moved to the Minneapolis area back in 1996, that Home Depot was selling tree peonies as part of a bare root program in the spring. Now a days you can’t find any bare root ones. My collection is up to 8, and I anxiously wait each spring for them to bloom. I have them planted in the woods amongst maple trees so do not have as many blooms on them as a girl friend who has hers in more sun. Such a beautiful plant, the neighborhood walkers all stop by just to admire them. I bought my first Itoh last year, and it seems to be doing really well. Still, its not the same as the trees. I will have to put this plant on my list too!

    1. margaret says:

      It is a winner, Margaret. I only have a few tree peonies, and they have been slow to size up, but this one grows like mad.

  6. Brenda Reiss says:

    I had a tree peony, (I don’t know the name but gorgeous flouncy white blooms), in a small walled garden. We were adding on to our house and I came home to find that not only had the morons piled dirt on the plants but had driven heavy equipment over it! I howled and gnashed my teeth…. the excuse was they didn’t want to ruin my lawn. No “lawn” just cut grass. Months later we dug the extra dirt off and, to my amazement the peony popped back to life!

  7. Poulsbo garden lady says:

    I love tree peonies and make a trip every spring to see the gorgeous yellow tree peonies at the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island. My 11 herbaceous peonies are fabulous this year with our dry spring…no rainstorms to beat them up this year! Now I will have to hope for a rainy week when they finish blooming…a fair trade-off if you ask me!

  8. Paul Manhart says:

    they are really pretty and spectacular but bloom period is way to short. I have a maroon one with gold center and a huge flowered pink one! They do not come true from seed!!!

  9. Kate says:

    Well, I am now smitten. But alas, late to the party, I can’t find these magnificent creatures in the Boston area right now. I’ll plan a deep search in the fall. I have a spot in full sun that’s been waiting years for the right inhabitant. I think a trio of these in triangular relationship will make a spectacular, if ephemeral focal point. Like a party. Wondering if the foliage after bloom time would make a convivial back drop for successive ‘party goers’. ?

  10. cj says:

    I have a burgundy Itoh, but it is sending up a regular peony from the roots also…..can I, should I, dig this regular peony up and plant it somewhere without hurting the Itoh?

    1. margaret says:

      Not sure what you mean by “regular peony” CJ–is this a grafted plant? If so, what you may be seeing are shoots from the underlying rootstock of your desired plant and those are meant to stay hidden. The graft union should be several inches below the soil surface…and any unwanted sprouts should be removed when they appear, or the stronger rootstock variety will overtake the other in time.

  11. Kate says:

    I grow this in Central Arkansas (zone 8b). From talking to people at a local nursery here, it sounds like they suggest fungal sprays to any one growing tree peonies (or intersectionals) in these parts. I’m not keen on spraying (especially for ornamental) so my plant fends for itself. And I suspect most people will find sprays unnecessary if they nail the drainage. Mine is growing in a raised bed, and I’m sure this has been a big help with our clay soils.

    The flowers are striking – but the flowering window is short. I grow this immediately next to Ribes odoratum (which blooms at the same time in my yard) and the contrast between the two is one of the highlights of early spring.

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