Its blossoms as big as your hand, the “tree peony” was voted the “unofficial national flower” of China following a nationwide vote in the nineties.
The tree peony grows taller and has more of a classic branching-out tree shape than the more common peony shrub. It has a woody trunk and branches like a tree, and you don’t trim the woody parts back
And it seems to bloom earlier. I was surprised when it bloomed early in May last year. This year it bloomed in April.
The blossoms are large. It’s hard not to stare at the them, if you’re in the area. They’re the neon signs in the Times Square of springtime’s Nature City.
I purchased ours six or seven years ago from the little garden shop in the Wollaston, our part of Quincy. The store owner had a few on hand in part because the red color of the blossoms appeals to the local Asian community. In China, red is the color of good luck.
According to an internet source (okay, Wikipedia), the common name “tree peony” has been given to four different species of peony. But judging by the photos, the variety we have is clearly “Rock’s tree peony” named for a Joseph Rock, who added it to the western catalogue of nature. The more interesting point is that the plant is in fact native to the mountains in the middle of China in a province called Gansu and in some of its neighbors.
The plant is widely appreciated in this country too.
A place called Linwood Gardens near Rochester, N.Y., has an extensive display of these peonies with blossoms in various colors. Describing itself as “an island set apart from the everyday world,” Lindwood Gardens is so proud of its collection of tree peonies that it celebrates their spring blossoming (in May) with a special event called the “Tree Peony Festival of Flowers.”
That’s kind of how I feel too. By the time the big red blossoms of the tree peony open every year, life is good and the garden season has taken hold.
Temperatures were cool last weekend and it’s actually raining today, May Day, so I’m hoping the blossoms will hold for a while. Like anything that’s truly perfect, they don’t last long.