People like to say that if you remain motivated and work hard all your effort will pay off in the end, and you will be rewarded with great success. That may well be true, but if you are an artist, or your name is Toichi Itoh, that success may come a little later than you hope for.
For years, peony growers had tried to cross Herbaceous peonies with tree peonies, but because they are not closely related within the genus, most had assumed this was impossible and largely given up on developing Herbaceous plant with the rich yellow flower displays found in the tree peony. That is, however, until a breeder in Tokyo Japan named Toichi Itoh came along.
In 1948, after a monumental effort (some say he tried more than 20,000 crosses), Itoh finally succeeded in making an intersectional cross between Paeonia x lemoinei, a hybrid tree peony, with P. lactiflora â€˜Kakodenâ€™, a white-flowered herbaceous peony which was to serve as the seed parent. He planted the resulting 36 seedlings, but would never realize the fruits of his effort, as he died in 1956, just eight years before the plants that had been his life’s work were to bloom.
In 1964 Itoh’s first crosses began to bloom. Of the 36 plants, six were considered outstanding, and became the first peonies of herbaceous character to have deep yellow, double flowers. These remarkable plants may have been lost forever, however, had it not been for an American horticulturist named Louis Smirnow who discovered them and obtained permission from Itohâ€™s widow to patent four of the plants in the late 1960s. He imported them into the United States and named them â€˜Yellow Crownâ€™, â€˜Yellow Dreamâ€™, â€˜Yellow Emperorâ€™ and â€˜Yellow Heavenâ€™.
These intersectional hybrids are vigorous plants that appear to have good resistance to peony blight (Botrytis paeoniae). The foliage looks much like tree peonies but they are herbaceous in habit, and die back to the ground in autumn. They form a dome-shape and bear single, semi-double or double flowers.
From these original crosses, we have seen some notable improvements by American breeders, including Don Hollingsworth’s Paeonia â€˜Garden Treasureâ€™ (P. lactiflora â€˜Carr East #2â€™ x P. x lemoinei â€˜Alice Hardingâ€™), which was introduced in 1984 and Roger Andersonâ€™s â€˜Bartzellaâ€™ (P. lactiflora double white cultivar x P. x lemoinei â€˜Golden Eraâ€™) raised in 1986. â€˜Garden Treasureâ€™ is the only intersectional hybrid to have received a gold medal from the APS, and demand for â€˜Bartzellaâ€™ was so great during the late 1990s that divisions were sold for more than $1,000 each.
The Itoh Hybrids: