I am trying to identify the white and pink peonies that grew in my grandmother's midwestern garden. Walking between the row of white and pink peonies was especially heavenly because of the sublime fragrance. So far my closest guess for the pink is Edulus Superba because of the shade of pink, the cup shape when starting to bloom, and the beautiful fragrance. The whites seemed to match in every respect except their color being white with an ocasional red edge to a petal. Nothing in her gardens was ordinary to my young senses. The family background was from Alsace so there were French cultivars of other plants that I can confirm. Any ideas?
Identity of Heirloom Peonies
An older peony which is pure white with an ocasional streak of red and a great smell could be Festiva Maxima. It's a great one.
Thanks very much for the suggestion. I've been looking at and smelling Festiva Maxima a lot, and it is a white that fits the way I described it, but I think "my" peony is going to have more of a cup shape as it opens. I do love Festiva Maxima, though. Another candidate I don't actually see except in pictures is "Le Cygne." Matching the bloom dates may be another way to solve this puzzle so I'm still trying to confirm whether the pink is Edulis Superba. To me this is also a search ruled by the nose. I have a rather modern garden but am trying to find a place in it for the nostalgic and fragrant past. Thanks again for your thoughts.
Please post pictures when they flower. I have a number of heirloom peonies that were my DH's grandmothers'. Perhaps some of yours look like mine.
I've only just started trying to find and plant some heirlooms. But I will post some of my plants as they bloom. I can't promise them even this year since my peony garden is very new. I have planted many newer peonies, but a few older varieties. I don't have access to my grandparents' house or even know if they're still there since this was in northern Illinois far from from my New England home. If you can post some pics of your plants, I can try to send you some clues as I learn them too. Some names of heirloom whites (before 1940) are Madame de Vernevilles, Avalanche, Le Cygne, and Festiva Maxima. Some pinks are the ubiquitous Sarah Bernhart, Mons. Jules Elie, and Edulis Superba. I see that some catalogs have heirloom sections int heir e-catalog. There are, of course, also many herbacious peonies that were plentiful in many grandmothers' gardens, and those will not be named varieties. I learned that the Inniswood Gardens in Columbus Ohio had a large old peony garden, but when they couldn't name the varieties planted by the two sisters that bequesthed the garden to the city, they were removed and replanted with known cultivars. It makes me sad to consider that newer is almost always considered better, when the older varieties do not have fragrance bred out of them. It is the memory of fragrance that probably endures the most about these miraculous plants. That is why I'm planting both old and new varieties.
I do have Festiva Max. That and Sarah Bernhardt are the ones that I know I have.
I love the smell of peonies. Can't believe they are breeding the smell out or digging up heirlooms because they don't know the names of them. They are a part of history, regardless of whether we know the names or not. Seems to me that the flowers around places such as Mt. Vernon and Monticello were preserved....
Here is my FM. You can just make out a spot of red on him.
Sorry but there are many peonies older than Felix Max. Guerin developed several earlier than that and Edulis Superba by Lemon is generally listed as 1824.
You then have to consider the Chinese and Japanese developed peonies. Some have came into Western commerce either with a direct translation or as a rename. I do not know enough about when the peonies esp in China went from being a herbal medicene to a garden plant but believe it was probably long before peonies were developed here or in Europe.
A sad, to me, sidelight is that none of the peonies that were developed before the American Peony Society started registering peonies can be shown in the APS shows. Of course as I had pointed out to me no pictures exist of many of the oldies so there is no proof that what the plant label states is correct.
When you have time wander through Carsten's website and look at the dates listed. www.paeo.de
Should have checked first instead of relying on my apparently increasingly defective memory!
It's interesting to me to see how very different even Festiva Maxima blooms can be on different plants. Mine tend to show red in more irregular places than either of the recent ( and lovely) photos on this thread. I have spent some time on Carsten's website during the dreary winter and am getting more confused but also enlightened. There are a few famous peony gardens in New England that I hope to visit to learn more about older peonies. Next on my trip list is Smith College ( I have college bound kids with high aspirations) where the landscape was designed by Olmstead. Swarthmore College might be on my list for botanical gardens, but I doubt the offspring (or pocketbook ) aim can be that high. Locally I am near some historic places such as Glenn Magma in Danvers MA, home of the Endicott family, Codman house in Lincoln MA, and Lyman Estate in Waltham MA where they talk peony at their fundraising sales to benefit the antiquarian society. If I learn anything especially new, or get any heirlooms to photograph in bloom, I will be sure to post.
Here's a photo of some peonies that I dug from my grandmother's property a few years ago. She had gotten them from her mother and planted them when she and my grandfather built their house in the late 30's. The parent plants were likely planted in the mid-late 19th century. These look a bit like FM but are not exactly the same. fancyvan was in on a discussion about these last spring. The only reference I found was to "Old Farmstead" which was offered by Hollingsworth last season. It was named so for being found on old home sites in the south and midwest. Hollingsworth has also offered it as "Mary Willa's Lactifora" in the past. Since last season I've read several articles that seem to indicate that consensus is convering around this being "Queen Victoria", imported to both America and Australia from Europe. Do yours look like this?
No, but by any name, yours is stunning, and very different also. I'd love to find one like it. I'm relying upon memory for the peonies, and in the end they could be unnamed. At the moment I think maybe Avalanche is the closest to the white--late blooming, somewhat cup shaped, and very fragrant. My aim is to get a lot of very different qualities from my peonies, whether it's a nostalgic memory or a new delight. So, I'm really hoping to see as many heirlooms as possible since catalog pictures never do a plant enough justice. Thanks so much for sharing your picture and your story.
Always a pleasure to share what little knowledge I may offer. Best of luck with your beauties. I hope to see some photos when they come along.
Thank you for posting the names of Botanical gardens especially in Massachusetts since our daughter lives in Milton.
I also have repeatedly gone to Carsten's website/Germany and find it the most complete I have run across.
Your picture of the white peony is BREATHTAKING !!
Thanks Eglantyne. I wish I could share the fragrance of it also, just delicious and rich. The plants also get huge, up to 4 feet but only need a little support when in full bloom. This particular variety is the most common type I see around my neck of the woods, generally in older neighborhoods or around rural farms/homes. They're covered in buds this year. I'll snap some new photos as they bloom in the next couple of weeks.
I also regret that so many gorgeous modern peonies have little or no fragrance. I don't think it is a matter of wanting to breed out the fragrance, but just that when you select for other things, such as color, the fragrance doesn't always come with.
Festiva Maxima was hybridized by a Frenchman named Miellez in 1851, so it is quite possible that this is what you have. It was the first I ever bought, and still my favorite. Just a glorious plant.
When we moved to this new location a few years ago I was so happy that I "inherited" a HUGE Festiva Maxima .In the meantime I have unearthed 2 more with just a few stems which bloomed for me.The large one is a most beautiful sight.
Right now it is inside of our new wooden picket fence.I didn't dare to move part of it last fall.
I also found a dark red one which I DID move.Hopefully it will bloom for me and I can take pictures,maybe someone can ID it for me.The house was built in 1850 so maybe it is also a historic.
One of the most magnetic things about growing peonies, in my opinion, is that we are linking to the past, as well as creating our own heirloom gardens. This week I saw the peony beds at a federal style former summer home, the Lyman estate in Waltham. The section of plant buds pushing out of the soil must be each about two feet in diameter, for unnamed pinks. Goes to show how an older peony can endure. Thanks for the kind words, Eglantine.
This is the site for the matthaei botanical gardens where University of Michigan has a huge heirloom peony garden. If only I could go when they are in bloom! I have a lead on my pink peony. Edulus Superba is a possibility, but I hope I can sniff a 'Souvenir de Louis Bigot.' for comparison. Alice Harding wrote glowingly about it in 1913. My grandmother was a plant collector whenever she could afford it, so the demographics and the plant description and pictures seem to match.
Wouldn't it be wonderful to go see !
I am sure it would be a unforgettable sight not soon to be forgotten.
My Edulus Superba had 2 buds but not bloomed again.This is probably the 3rd if not the 4th year after planting.I just received several books on peonies I borrowed from our library before I purchase them so I'll have to look up 'Souvenir de Louis Bigot.'
I took an hour to read over the 1928 listing of registered peonies according to the American Peony Society. There is a library tab on Carsten Bukhardt's website (referenced in an entry above), where you can read all sorts of stuff. an example of a pink in their listing would be Madame Emile Debatene 1927, while August Dessert and Albert Crousse are listed as rose colored. The list of doubles is very large, but I think my candidate list is fairly small.
After looking at Carsten's website how many did you add to your wish list?
During the winter I can spend hours looking at his site and then trying to find the one's that I would like to have. Many are only to be found in home gardens and are no longer in commerce. However makes for a nice evening with several cups of my favorite beverage.
thank you for the link I live in Mi and never even heard of it !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I had the same experience with more than one peony. Leafing only or producing buds that didn't bloom, after five years. I dug them up and put them in pots and BOOM! I got plants that jumped to two feet and produced multiple stems and flowers.
May I make a suggestion? You will probably find that the root is not very big. Dig them up this fall and replant them closer to the surface. That's what I did, and it worked.
I'm glad to identify a new place of wonder.I have been to the botanical garden off peony season, and it was still a gem.
It is a real pleasure to look at peonies online from any source, including the many catalogs, and Carsten's Peony Project is amazing as I have done the same as you. My wish list is already too big to gratify! I have tried to make a small section for peonies I'm investigating on the DG journal page, but it's true-- convenience, price and familiarity affect purchase decisions.
But it is interesting how over time one can love one plant more than another, even online. What has vexed me is the question--how hard is it to find a peony that rather embodies my idea of "peoneness." It would seem that everyone would have known a fragrant, cupshaped, sturdy, lateblooming, deep pink double. Clearly my grandmother didn't have any trouble propagating a ton of them either, and then how did she find a white peony that matched , but for a different color, and to be honest, didn't have quite the fragrance?
Rosemary seeing the plants in off season is really good. Even in the best kept gardens if you look closely you will be able to see the foliage. This allows you to select and discard or place on your want list plants that are all season and not just during flowering season.
Rosemary that type of peony was probably pretty much all that was available when your grandmother was planting - not that there were no other types but they were not generally available in most garden centres. And I have read that a lot of what was available was grown for the cut flower trade so the type you describe was what they wanted with strong stems.
I recall only 20 years ago wanting a pink peony because there had been an old pink double beside the porch steps of the house in which I grew up and when I went to the nursery what was on offer was pink, red and white - no name attached, just the color!
And your grandmother was probably just splitting the roots as the plants got bigger and adding them to the row!
Yep, fancyvan, I know what you mean. Still, even then there were many varieties of pinks, so a farmstead peony is not necessariily the answer. The farmstead one I've grown lately is a different plant. I think I was told that the peonies in question were named, and some sort of a present. This is sort of like searching for the holy grail, especially since there is noone to ask. The pink and white starters could have come from a catalog or even from France or some Chinese importer for that matter.
I will try to follow Annette's advice and still see peony plants offseason when I can. Next June is busy -- high school graduation, when I hope to have peonies of my own in bloom. Learning how to orchestrate them properly considering foliage and bloom dates will take longer. That's part of my awe-- how did she get such a matching set of pink and white?
I wrote to Brigitte and Harvey Buchite, whose descriptions of their plants reveal so much affection on their website for their peony farm, Hidden Springs Flower Farm. This is the reply:
"Avalanche would be from the right time period and the most popular fragrant pink and the most likely one would have been Edulis Superba. Miss Eckhardt would be too new and found only in the British Isles at the time you refer to and Lois Bigot is not that fragrant and is a short bush. "
Guess I'll grow this most likely pair, and in a year or two, it'll be fairly clear if that's a match.
More peony names from 1917 or before, as referenced in Alice Harding's book, The Peony. p27 of the updated persion: "eight fine deep pink peonies" as follows: Alexandre Dumas, Auguste Villaume, Claire Dubois, Madame Geissler, Modele de Perfection, Monsieur Jules Elie (that is deep pink?) Souvenir de l'Eposition Universelle, and Suzanne Dessert. Can't say I know many of these from any catalogs.
If there were three lactiflora peonies introduced to the US in the mid 1800s, I haven't seen what became of 2 of them. Country Gardens site did have a deep pink heritage peony from this group called 'Humei' which I have ordered for $14.95.
Oops, brain freeze. I got the heirloom pink peony from Old House gardens in ann arbor MI.
Years ago I dug up a peony that I found growing in the woods behind our farm. It was growing by the remnants of an old stone foundation of what was known as "the old Norwegian's cabin. It is a white one that I am sure is Festiva Maxima, and it would have been growing there since the 1870's which is when they lived there. The place I planted it in has now grown too shady and I am digging it up and moving it into the sun. I will probably divide it when I do so. Just today I looked up the date that it became available, which was 1852. I have been looking up the census and the deeds of our farm to try to figure out just who lived there, and if there was a wife who planted this long lived peony.
Cool, Caitlin. I love those links to the past when we can learn them.
Although we now think of peonies as having been a woman's flower many of the early growers were men plant collectors who had to have the latest and best available. So it may not have been the little woman but the big hulking farmer man.
Ha, I know that's often true. My grandfather was very discriminating about plants, as well as how to care for people, and he may have given peony plants as a gift to brighten his wife's country life. Their victory gardens were a family project as well. There are many lessons for modern life from those agricultural roots.
To caitlinsgarden: We had a row of festiva maxima blooming on the north side of our walkway when we moved into our house in Marblehead, in 1965. I later found a picture from the 1870s of the same row of peonies. Our house was the only old house that we could never find an old picture of but we knew they had peonies. We had that picture! I've moved since then, but I've scattered the roots to all who wanted.
EEEWWWWEEEE! THANKS to all who are commenting about the lovely Festiva Maxima! I knew it as a child, and now, having my OWN LAND, many years later, planted it last Fall with some others...but it is my favorite, and it is showing some buds already! Dear soul! Do you know how proud I was to purchase it?! Nothing to compare!
By the way, when I planted my peonies last Fall, I put black landscape fabric around them, then mulched heavily, then watched in dismay as some varmint kept pulling bit of that landscape fabric out of the mulch...weird! So, I put some chicken wire over the whole area, and used those metal staples that are so handy...
No more weird messing with my peonies! And, they're growing right up, through the holes...so I might as well keep that chicken wire in place, huh! Of course I'll watch it carefully...!