[From Paeon, an eminent physician of antiquity ]
This interesting genus contains many magnificent flowering plants, embracing more than one hundred varieties and species, all of which are desirable for the border, and perfectly hardy, standing over winter without protection. Most of the genus are herbaceous. P. Moutan, and its varieties, are shrubby; their roots are fleshy, but not so distinctly tuberous as those of the herbaceous species. All require nearly the same treatment. The time for dividing the herbaceous sorts is in September or October; the whole stool should be taken up. With a sharp knife it may be divided into as many pieces as there are tubers with buds; it is necessary that a bud be preserved on each tuber. At this season of the year the Peony is in a dormant state; the buds are just beginning to show themselves, and, if delayed long after the first of October, the new fibres begin to push, and the plant will be less likely to flower the coming spring. The Peony should not be disturbed in the spring, unless it be very early, as it does not succeed well when transplanted at that season, without a ball of earth adhering to the roots. The tubers should be planted in a deep, rich, light, garden soil; the crown, or bud, should be placed three inches below the surface. The species of the Peony have been so much changed by the florist, that it is difficult to draw the line of botanical distinction with any degree of accuracy; and, for floral purposes, it is not necessary.
This is the old Double Crimson Peony, familiar to every one as a household friend. When first introduced into Antwerp, two hundred and fifty, years ago, the plant sold for twelve crowns, - a large sum for those days.
The varieties of this species are P. rosa, with rose; P. blanda, with blush; P. rubra, with red; P. carneus, with flesh-colored; P. albicans, with white flowers; and many others. This class of Peonies flower the last of May and the first of June.
P. tenuifolia or Fennel-leaved, with fine leaves like fennel; in flower the first of May; it is of a deep-crimson color, and, when in bud, very beautiful. There is a double variety of this sort.
The White-flowered or Chinese Peony, is the parent of many fine varieties, such as P. Sibirica and P. Whitleyi, with white flowers; P. Tartarica, flesh-colored; P. Humei, lilac-red; P. Reevesii, lilac-rose; P. Pottsii, crimson, all old varieties. , After these come a succession of splendid sorts, viz.: P. prolifera tricolor; flowers in clusters, ground petals pure white, with a globular mass of small yellow petals in the center with the crimson stigmas protruding; P. festiva, large, full, double pure white flowers, delicately striped or touched with purple; P. sulphurea, with large petals of a light sulphur color; Duchesse de Nemours, with a multitude of other beautiful varieties.
A purplish-red species from the south of Europe, which has produced several varieties, such as P. Grevillei, P. compacta, P. fimbriata, etc. P. decora and P. corallina, are species with large, single, purplish-red and red flowers.
P. Moutan, or the Tree Peony and its varieties are magnificent plants, with flowers of various-shades of red, lilac, light and dark-purple, and white, measuring from six to eight inches in diameter; all are of easy culture, very hardy, requiring but little protection. The variety Banksii, is one of the most common kinds. I have had a plant of this, with from seventy to eighty flowers upon it at one time, presenting a splendid sight; the flowers vary on the same bush, some of them will be very double, of a light-pink color, fading, as they open to a blush at white towards the edges, and at the base deepening to purplish-red. Variations also take place in the size of the flowers, according to the strength of the plant. The shrub is rarely seen more than three feet high, but it becomes very large in circumference, bushing out from year to year, and growing into a regular, hemispherical shape. It is in flower the last of May.
P. papaveracea, is also a splendid plant, having large, single, white flowers, sometimes ten inches in diameter. The petals are flat, with a deep purple spot at the base of each. These spots are rayed about an inch and one-half long, from the center, forming a rich, brilliant star in the middle of the flower; the bright yellow stamens add to the beauty of the flower, forming a fine contrast with the purple and pure white. It is a very desirable plant. There is a variety of this, with semi-double or double flowers. P. papaveracea rosea, is a variety with fine rose-colored flowers, and there is one of the same color with double flowers; not very common.
P. Elizabeth, is one of the most splendid and rare varieties. The flowers are of the largest size, very double; color carmine, shaded with crimson. P. Grrand Soleil, has large, double, white flowers, shaded with pink. A great number of splendid varieties have recently been introduced from France and Germany. Some of the new sorts raised by M. Guerin Modeste, of Paris, are the following:-
Vigorous; leaves yellowish-green; flowers very large, nearly full, brilliant fiery rose, softer rose towards the edge; a magnificent variety.
Vigorous; leaves glaucous green; flowers very large, nearly full, rose amaranth towards the base of the petals, pearly white at the top,
Vigorous; leaves glaucous green, tinted yellow; flowers large, well raised in the center, rose amaranth, softer towards the outside, velvety-white, very lightly tinted with carnation towards the center; a superb variety, of which the flowers are of excellent form. This variety was offered for sale in 1863.
Vigorous; leaves deep-green; flowers large, nearly full, clear satiny amaranth, of uniform shade; a fine variety, not yet distributed. The same gentleman has produced a great number of beautiful seedling herbaceous varieties. Other florists in Paris and elsewhere in France, have raised many splendid seedlings of Tree Peonies, as well as of the herbaceous sorts. To these must be added those introduced direct from China, by Mr. Fortune. Several of these Tree Peonies remain as yet without an equal, in' respect to the regularity of their form and the beauty of their colors.
"The propagation of Moutans, upon their first introduction, was a matter of considerable difficulty. They have, consequently, borne a high price in the nurseries; and though they are now multiplied extensively, yet, with all the experience which has been acquired, the obtaining strong new plants is a tedious operation. All modes of propagation have been tried with them, viz.: by seeds, suckers, grafts, cuttings, and layers. They rarely produce seeds that are perfect, unless the impregnation of the stigmas is properly attended to. Most of the seedlings of late production are from seeds, grown from fertilized flowers. Suckers, or rather root shoots, may sometimes be severed successfully from large old plants, and such soon become strong enough to flower. If the work is carefully executed, grafts of the rarer sorts may be fixed on pieces of the roots of the more common. These pieces of roots must be established in pots, and in the spring, a bud with a little wood attached to it may be joined to the root in the manner of a graft, a slice of the root being taken off to receive the piece intended to be united with it. When the fitting is completed, it is to be covered with clay, taking care to leave the eye exposed; the pot must be kept covered with a hand glass.
"Some nurserymen have succeeded in grafting the Tree varieties on the roots of the herbaceous sorts. To this end, strong roots of herbaceous varieties are procured; these are kept growing and then grafted, a branch with one or more buds being inserted on the side of the root. The grafted roots are put under bell-glasses, or in frames placed by preference in a north aspect, and the grafts soon become united and commence to grow, promptly producing roots for themselves. The grafting is performed from the middle of July to the middle of September. Ripe cuttings, taken off in August and September, with a small piece of old wood at the end, and planted against the side of garden pots, in a mixture of loam, leaf-mould, and sand well drained, and protected from the air by glasses, will succeed. The pots must be secured from frost in the winter, and shaded in summer; in the spring, the progress of the cuttings may be assisted by being placed in a frame with a gentle bottom heat. But the more general plan of multiplying Moutans is by layers, the shoots for which purpose should be planted in protecting pits, or in sheltered borders, which should be covered with mats, spread over hoops; the branches, when laid down, require a longer time to emit roots, than is usual with the common shrubs, and the largest are seldom fit to be removed until they have remained two years attached to the stool. The shoots, when laid down, require a longitudinal slit or tongue in the inner part of the bend; and this must be made with care, for, being brittle, the wood is liable to break. The tongued part should be bedded in a mixture of loam and sand,"
I have found that the Tree Peony flowers stronger when well protected in autumn by a liberal coating of manure about the roots, and the top protested with straw.