There's something about the simplicity in color and form of Joseph Rock's peony (Paeonia rockii) that takes my breath away ever since I saw it in person at a friend's garden. Not only were the flowers striking, the scent was most alluring.
Hoping to one day own a plant of my own, I couldn't afford to spend $150 dollars for a plant for myself (I still can't!). But after hours of searching online, most companies offering "Ziban Mudan" were Chinese exporters who offered them in large commercial quantities. I found a plant for $100 dollars a few years back and actually caved and bought it. It produced mediocre flowers and it seemed to get hit by botrytis quite readily and it is currently struggling.
Here's one of its better moments. The flowers were huge, semi-double, nicely scented, but shattered immediately after it fully opened.
I stumbled across a source in Lithuania, of all places, that offered mature seed-grown plants so I decided to give it a try. Several years later, they are my surviving specimens planted in a not so ideal location (under a white pine in dry shade and bloom reliably each year.
I'm particularly fond of this year's crop that just started blooming with just a few more buds to go!
And here is one blossom just nearing its end...
There are many hybrids and color forms of Paeonia rockii available on the market (most of them coming in from mainland China).
There are some hybrids and forms that are just truly out of this world. Photos from www.paeoniarockii.com
This one is called 'Great Achievement' (Feng Gong Wei Ji).
Just love the name of this one 'Xue Shan Hudie', translating to "Butterfly in Snow-Capped Mountain"
A crazy double called 'E Luo Si'
Dubbed as 'Wei Zi Jin Huan' or "Purplish Gold Wreath".
With these exquisite forms and poetic names, they are very irresistible, but I'll always be fond of the plain white selection.
Growing tree peonies in general can be quite a challenge for the inexperienced gardener because it takes years for them to grow and fully establish in the garden. They often arrive in the fall as thin dead sticks and it takes awhile before they leaf out and flower the following spring. Some even don't flower until after a few years.
They need full sun, but have tolerated part shade. The prefer moderately moist, but well-drained soil and an area where it doesn't get too windy yet provides good air-circulation.