The 14th annual Canadian Peony Society Show and General Meeting was held in Calgary over the weekend, and although I’m not a member of the national peony society, I just had to take in the cut flower displays that were open for viewing to the public. I love peony flowers for their sheer extravagance – even the single forms make a bolder statement in the garden than most other plants. There is simply nothing subtle about peonies, and how wonderful is that?
According to the Canadian Peony Society’s website (www.peony.ca), cut flowers on display are categorized in several ways, primarily based on flower colour, form, and plant derivation. There are four classifications of peonies: the lactifloras, which are the traditional, exceptionally long-lived, herbaceous garden varieties we are most familiar with; the hybrids, created when two or more peony species are bred together; tree peonies, which are woody varieties; and finally, intersectional peonies, the cross-breeds of herbaceous and woody peonies. Break these categories down even further into flower types: single, Japanese, anemone, semi-double, and double. And then colour…although the lactifloras are easy (they only come in red, white and pink). Tree peonies tend toward the dark, jewel colours such as carmine and purple, and the hybrids are the ones that are often two-toned, or blush.
When showing cut peony flowers, exhibitors may cut blooms up to four weeks in advance of a show, and keep the stems refrigerated until ready to display. Only single blooms are shown (unless otherwise allowed). The practice is to strip the stems of all leaves except the uppermost ones – foliage can actually detract from the blossom’s merits if it is discoloured or deformed. The flower itself must be completely symmetrical and uniform in colour and shape, without any blemishes.