Thinking about adding a new peony to your garden this year? With so many gorgeous varieties to choose from, it can be hard to pick a favorite. Here’s how to make that decision easy: plant a yellow one!
Most garden peonies have blossoms that are red, pink or white. To get yellow flowers, breeders needed to cross a standard herbaceous peony with a tree peony, and that wound up being much more difficult than anyone expected.
In 1999, Wisconsin peony breeder Roger Anderson introduced Bartzella, and gardeners didn’t blink at spending up to $1000 for a single plant. Now, after almost twenty years of commercial production, this stunning, lemon yellow peony is available at a price that’s well within reach for most home gardeners.
Here are a few reasons Bartzella deserves a place in your garden:
Intersectional hybrids combine the best traits of an herbaceous garden peony with those of a tree peony. Plants in this new classification are also known as Itoh hybrids, after the Japanese hybridizer Toichi Itoh, who achieved the first successful intersectional hybrid back in 1948.
Itoh peonies have a broader, looser growth habit than standard garden peonies, and the foliage is not as coarse. The plants are also more compact, rarely growing more than 2½-feet tall. This makes it easy to work these modestly-sized, dome-shaped plants into a mixed perennial border.
Hybrid genetics give Itoh hybrids like Bartzella better resistance to powdery mildew, botrytis blight and several other peony diseases. As with all members of the peony family, deer and other garden pests are rarely a concern.
Of course, the best thing about Bartzella is its pale, lemon yellow flowers. The yellow is more intense at the base of the petals and gets creamier at the outer edges. As the blossoms mature, the overall color gets softer, and red flares around the center (characteristic of tree peonies) become more pronounced.
Bartzella’s flowers are much bigger than a regular garden peony — measuring 8 or 9” across and sometimes even larger. Blossoms appear all over the plant, rather than just across the top. This creates a more balanced presentation, plus, the flowers don’t flop as easily because they’re supported by the rest of the plant. Mature plants may produce 50 or more flowers each year.
Bloom time for Bartzella and other Itoh hybrids usually peaks as standard garden peonies are ending. Buds develop on new growth as well as on old stems from the prior year, so flowering typically lasts 3 to 4 weeks.
Not everyone has a yellow peony and that’s part of the fun. A friend of mine planted Bartzella in her garden about ten years ago, when the plants were still going for over $100 each. Peonies are long-lived and it takes them a couple years to get established. When the first blossom opened, Tena put on an impromptu garden party so people could come over and admire her gorgeous yellow peony.
Over time, this event has become a hallowed tradition with an ever-expanding guest list. Invitations go out as soon as Bartzella’s buds start coloring up, letting us know it’s time to gather for a glass of Prosecco and a toast to this remarkable plant.