Articles about Peony hybridizers
Showing posts with label hybridizers. Show all posts

Sunday, June 24, 2018

2018 Peony 'Lavon' APS 2018 Best in Show


Peony 'Lavon'
American Peony Society 2018 Best In Show
Grand Champion

When the results for the Best in Show flower were revealed after the 2018 American Peony Society Judges Select Court of Honor and Best In Show, there was quite a bit of excitement surrounding the peony that won the highest honor of the peony exhibition. The award went a home-state exhibitor, Brooks Gardens of of Brooks, Oregon. The hybridizer of the peony also happened to be at the show, Don Hollingsworth. So it was a great win for both! I decided to talk with both of them about what having Peony 'Lavon' win Best in Show meant to each of them. Here's what they said...

Don Hollingsworth Hybridizer of Peony 'Lavon'
(named after his wife Lavon)
and Kent Tretheway, Lavon's Son

Questions for Don Hollingsworth:

How did it feel to have your Peony 'Lavon' honored as the Best In Show flower at this year's APS Convention?

"I was and am pleased. While I have known for decades that peony ‘Lavon’ is capable of making a flower which could rightly be named Best in Show, this is the first time it ever happened. And I must add: this flower winning is remarkable in that it was scarcely half the size and fullness of which ‘Lavon’ is capable. And, I am not second guessing the judges in these remarks. When competent judges do their job, flower condition (freshness, crispness) and symmetry of its anatomy are key considerations and this Best of Show flower was strong among the competition on both counts."

Were you surprised to find out that it won?

"Yes, because that was the first I was aware an entry of ‘Lavon’ had even been staged. I was not tapped for the judging, and my previous partial tour of the staged entries was focused on the hybrids classes and the floral designs, taking pictures. After judging was completed, I happened to enter the room by way of the door near where the Court of Honor was staged. Yes, it was the best possible series of events for me to be not only surprised, but pleasantly so."

How does it encourage you in your hybridizing?

"It reminded me that for years I have been wishing (and trying again and again) to find pollen in current flowers of ‘Cytherea’, which is the pollen parent of ‘Lavon’, also its seven siblings and half-siblings which have earned name registration here."


Therese Sprauer of Brooks Gardens
Accepting her Best In Show Ribbon
for her Peony 'Lavon' Show Flower

Questions for Therese Sprauer:

How did it feel to have your Peony 'Lavon' honored as the Best In Show flower at this year's APS Convention?

"Thank you for asking - it's always a thrill to compete. I really like encouraging others to do the same. I often hear how some growers and gardeners feel intimidated by such huge competition and I hope to encourage all gardeners and growers to bring even a few flowers to enter."

"I was thrilled and honored to learn 'Lavon' was awarded Best in Show/Grand Champion at the 2018 American Peony Society floral exhibit. With such strong competition, it is an absolute joy to learn one of your entries dazzled at the right moment. To share the victory with Don Hollingsworth, the hybridizer, made it even sweeter!"

"A huge thank you to the APS; the many volunteers who tagged and placed entries; and, to our Brooks Gardens team, whose work on the farm allowed me time to select, cut and store peony buds for entry."

Were you surprised to find out that it won?

"The day before the exhibit, I was in the field telling my flower cutter, Rita, that she could now cut any flowers for bouquets, as I was done gathering buds for competition. I then literally snatched two flowers out of her hand and said " Except I will take these two 'Lavon's' to enter in competition tomorrow - they look perfect." I was in a bit of disbelief when I heard that it was, in fact, a 'Lavon' that won - one of the last entries placed on the tables."

How does it encourage you in your peony growing and exhibitions?

"To see a showroom filled with hundreds of beautiful peonies is breathtaking and rewarding to all participants and visitors. I encourage all peony growers and gardeners to participate in the APS floral exhibit. No matter the level of excitement or anxiety one experiences along the way from field to exhibit table, I remind myself and others, 'it only takes one flower'. That's important to remember when you see hundreds, or even thousands of flowers brought in to the prep areas for entry selection. Bring your flowers next year and join in the fun!"

Monday, May 14, 2018

Happy Birthday! Peony Hybridizer Don Hollingsworth Turns 90!


Look Who's 90
Please join us as we celebrate DON HOLLINGSWORTH

So this happened! The birthday celebration took place was while I was on my trip to China, and a it's a bit of a hike from my neck of the woods anyway. So unfortunately I was not able to attend, but I wanted to wish Don a very Happy Birthday and share this awesome milestone with all of you in case you'd like to send him birthday greetings as well. Don is a person I admire for many reasons, his willingness to share his knowledge, his lifetime commitment to peonies and the American Peony Society, and his awesome longevity just to name a few. He is really an upstanding young man, and I can't wait to see what he has yet to accomplish. Happy (Belated) Birthday, Don!

Monday, December 26, 2016

2016 Peony Hybridizer Interview - Nate Bremer



Peony Hybridizer - Nate Bremer

1. Did your early life give you an introduction to the world of plants and flowers?

"I grew up in a gardening family. We had large perennial gardens and a good sized vegetable garden, which I was tasked with keeping weeded as a youth. Mom (Diane) loved almost any plant and was not particular about what was in the gardens. Dad was always looking for the exotic and was interested in trying new plant introductions. Family vacations and trips often revolved around visiting nurseries and botanic gardens, which I found very interesting and certainly set the seed for plant passion. In the late 1960's a friend of the family got my father and I interested in tropical orchids. We began buying and collecting plants that were grown under lights. By the time I was in 8th grade we had built a small greenhouse, which was attached to our garage, to house the orchid collection. During the summer of 1976 we took a summer vacation with a van towing a 26 foot house trailer to Mexico-the goal was to collect wild orchids. We collected hundreds of epiphytic orchids from the southern cloud forests of Mexico, which we imported into the U.S. and grew in our greenhouse. Some of the orchids were unidentified species at the time and were very interesting to the orchid world. The orchid 'bug' stayed with me through college and up to the 1990s, at which time I became interested in daylilies."

2. What year did you start hybridizing?

"Just after getting married to Kim (my best half) in 1983, I began hybridizing Phragmipedium orchids. Hybridizing orchids was not unlike working with peonies in that it takes a good 5 to 7 years from seed to see your results. Unfortunately the seed of orchids had to be sent to a lab for germination and early development, which was always problematic. The labs often mishandled, mislabeled or would do poor work growing the plants. Getting good product from the labs during that period of time was challenging and often disappointing. My best hybrid (Phragmipedium 'Nate Bremer') was a cross of Phragmipedium 'Mary Bess' x Phragmipedium caricinum. It was registered, propagated and distributed after I had hung up hybridizing orchids. All in all, the orchid hybridizing experience was a great experience to work with other plants that were hardy for our area."

3. What made you want to get into peony hybridizing?

"Next came daylily hybridizing, which I still do today. Hemerocallis (daylily) are selectively hybridized worldwide on a large scale with thousands of new introductions made yearly. Advancements within that genus made large strides during the 1990's to 2000's, but now have stagnated somewhat. There is still much work to do with in the genus, but progress is slower. Once I started growing peonies and became familiar with the hybrids, I could see many new possibilities. The possibilities were like looking out on a new frontier, and exploration of the unknown was certainly a driving factor that led to my interest in breeding them."

4. Are you self trained, or have you taken classes or read books on hybridizing before you started?

"People often ask: 'Where did you learn how to hybridize?' Like almost all hybridizers it was one borne from interest and not one that was a vocation. Initially, I went to college and enrolled in a plant science program. After a couple of semesters of work within the program it became obvious that future money making potential within the area was not likely to be good. With this in mind I changed my major to science education and directed my efforts to teaching. Learning to selectively hybridize plants and animals was well supported by genetics and biology classes and only a little imagination was needed. Reading books by other hybridizers and making close observations of my own plants, as well as others, was good training. Getting to know other hybridizers (Bill Seidl) was very helpful and led to many good discussions of the possibilities and barriers. I'm not aware of any one definitive 'How to Hybridize Peonies' piece of literature that would answer all the questions. The unknown and learning the habits of the subjects being worked with in my garden is one of the most rewarding, if not surprising aspects of hybridizing. If you aren't willing to experiment and fail, hybridizing probably isn't a good activity for you."


Nate Bremer at Solaris Farms

5. How would you characterize your breeding program?

"My hybridizing program for peonies is all over the place. I'd characterize it as a program that focuses on advanced generation hybrids-one that works primarily with plants that are F3 or later. While big 'breaks' can be made in the earlier generations, advanced generations tend to focus on refinements in the flowers and habits of the plants. After some good years of production, it has become obvious that greater genetic diversity may be needed, drawing from earlier generations, to make solid gains with the advanced generation plants. For instance, very few hybridizers ever worked with creating lutea hybrids (Saunders, Reath, Daphnis, Lemoine and Henry). Of this group of hybridizers only the first three in the list have produced hybrids used in advanced generation lutea hybrids. The primary hybrids or first generation plants mostly came from a very few Paeonia delavayi and Paeonia suffruticosa hybrids found within these hybridizers collections, making genetic diversity in the group very limited. Obviously, new P. delavayi and P. suffruticosa cultivars brought into this group would increase genetic diversity and perhaps produce more desirable traits in our hybrids. I'd like to produce more of F1 hybrids to enhance what is already available."

6. What kind of peonies do you specialize in?

"The focus of my hybridizing program in mostly advanced generation lutea hybrids and herbaceous hybrids. While I love lactifloras and some of the new intersectional crosses, I don't have the time and space to work with these groups. Woody peonies (tree peonies) are of special interest due to their wide and varied plant habits and flowers. Specializing in these plants allows me a large collection of goals to work with and the upside is great. Producing woody peonies that will grow well in our northern continental climate zone is challenging, but also needed for this group of plants. While woody peonies can be grown here successfully, many of the available cultivars are challenging and are not the best choices for our gardens. Producing new hybrids better suited to the northern part of the United States is certainly something that is appealing."

7. How has your "eye" for evaluating peonies changed over the years?

"Probably like many people, when I first began hybridizing, my concentration was on the beauty of the flower. Over time the plant habit became more important, and today that aspect now over shadows the flower. Because peonies are in bloom for such a short period of time, I now want plants that have good foliage, are disease resistant and have strong stems (that present their flowers nicely during bloom)."

8. When you look at a plant as an experienced hybridizer, what do you see?

"As I've gained experience one of the first things I look for in my plants is consistent strong wide stems (this works for both woody and herbaceous plants). Strong wide stems support flowers well. A plant that consistently grows with this habit often looks better in bloom. Many hybridizers want fast growers, but I think that is more of a marketing desire than one that is focused on quality. A preference for plants that have solid growth habits outweighs almost everything else."

9. When you evaluate your seedlings, what are your major criteria?

"Double formed flowers with good stem strength is certainly a goal, but so is leaf form, color and floriferousness. Woody peonies that are tall in plant habit (in the north) is something I'm working on, but so are mounded-low growing plants. These plants should be productive bloomers and have double flowers of good color. Leaves that are deeply cut and are present from the ground up is also something that is pleasing. All of these goals together are a tall order, but progress is made with each generation and choosing parental material with these traits often produce better plants in the next generation. I suppose that my aspiration is the perfect peony, but that is probably different for each hybridizer. Culling seedlings that miss the mark on plant habit, even if the flowers are nice, is a difficult task. I found that making the decision to cull became easier when the bad plant habit peony seedlings began to block the rows in the field, impeding my ability to work in the area. In the past we used to sell seedlings, but now avoid putting plants in other's hands that may have a flaw that I can't live with."

10. What are your aspirations for the future of peonies?

"In the future I'd like to see peonies more widely grown and in greater numbers in people's gardens. To accomplish this a great deal more education and introduction is needed for gardeners to embrace the plant. New peony cultivars need to become more disease resistant and better cultivars need to replace the more commonly sold cultivars. I think the APS is on the right track with its listing of Award of Landscape Merit plants. If the American Peony Society can become more visible to the gardening world, I think the peony can make great gains in gardens."


Nate Bremer's Tree Peony 'Copper King'

11. What is your favorite named and registered cultivar so far (of your own) and why?

"I'm very much a new comer to the registration of peonies and have not registered many of my own creations to date-that takes time. Bill Seidl introduced me to peonies in the summer of 2000 (I didn't really like peonies at that time-due to ignorance). Bill had registered a number of cultivars prior to meeting him, but was no longer interested in that process. He continued to hybridize, and he had a good number of plants worthy of registration. We began a discussion about getting these plants into commerce and registering them. Thus many of the plants that I've registered are Bill's originations. My own hybrids are now creeping into the registration process, and I'd have to say that my favorite to date is the woody peony 'Copper King' (registered in 2016). Copper King is a semi-double advanced generation lutea hybrid with coppery orange color scheme. The plants have good foliage and good stem strength. It has done well in our climate and flowers are unlike any other in the garden."

12. Which of your peonies are your oldies but goodies?

"Picking favorites has always been difficult, but there are those that stand out. Woodies from other hybridizers that I very much like include Saunders' 'Age of Gold', Daphnis' 'Hephestos' and 'Pluto', Seidl's 'Fuchsia Ruffles' and 'Angel Emily', 'Rosy White Clouds' and a number of other white double rockii lineage plants, 'Lavender Hill', 'Theresa Ann', and 'Golden Mandarin'. Typically the woody peonies that are not in favor are culled, so most things that are found on my website are acceptable or very much liked! Herabaceous hybrids are another passion, and some of my favorite oldies would be: 'Minnie Shaylor', 'Old Faithful', 'Pastelegance', 'Pastelorama', 'Vanilla Schnapps', 'Chocolate Soldier', 'Viking Valor', 'Abalone Pearl', and 'Dreamtime'. Most of these probably don’t fit into the 'old' cultivar category, but they are what I like the most. 'Bartzella', an intersectional, is also a plant that I think is superior."


Peony 'Vanilla Schnapps' at Solaris Farms

"I don’t grow many lactifloras since they don’t typically fit into my hybridizing program for various reasons. One plant that has been with me, my father, and grandfather is 'Edulis Superba' and will remain. 'Edulis Superba' has beautiful, fragrant, double flowers perfect for cutting. Its real allure for me is the rootstocks that it produces. This old French hybrid has survived for more than a hundred years in many gardens and probably has endured much neglect. The plant is vigorous and produces highly disease resistant roots, which are perfect for grafting woody peony scions to and is likely the reason the cultivar has survived in so many gardens! For grafters, it is an easy grower, woody peony scions easily join with it, and it is not adventitious! Perfect."


Peony 'Pastelorama' at Solaris Farms

"From a hybridizer stand point, I get excited about plants that others may not find so appealing. I really like 'Manchurian Promise', a woody peony, registered in 2016. Flowers are semi-double of apricot/salmon on top of a yellow base. The plants are very consistent growers and have good seed fertility. From a hybridizing stand point, it is difficult to find good seed producing lutea hybrids of good quality. 'Pastelorama' an herbaceous hybrid, that we registered in 2013, also get high marks. 'Pastelorama' is a very large flower of dusty pink/rose that has been a very good parent for quality semi-double and double flower forms."

13. Which of your new and/or upcoming registrations are you most excited about?

"I’m really excited about my own introductions/registrations and think they will be great additions to anyone’s garden. At this writing there are 5 of my own registrations on the books: 'Aegean', 'Copper King', 'From the Deep', 'Manchurian Promise', and 'Wisteria Reflections'. I register a number of Bill Seidl’s worthy seedling each year as well. In 2017 there will be 5 more of my own woody registrations, but they still need to go through the APS registration process. I think this is another great group of plants."

Nate Bremer's
Tree Peony 'Wisteria Reflections'

Nate Bremer's
Tree Peony 'From the Deep'

"I enjoy so many peonies, that it is often difficult to pick out favorites, but sometimes I like them for unusual reasons! Favorites often change from year to year and are usually seedlings from our own hybridizing program. Peonies that I certainly favor are:

1. Woody peony 'NB-SH91': A seedling from a cross of 'Pluto' x 'KC Red'. 'Pluto' seldom produces seed, but if you can get a seed or two a year and grow them out, the product is often very good. In this plant’s case the flowers are a single red, very nice, but not a knock your socks off flower. However, the plants have a very upright habit and have very winter hardy stems-something that is very much needed in advanced generation hybrids. To top it off this plant is the most fertile of any advanced generation lutea hybrid plants that I grow and suspect anyone grows. Seed fertility in this group is often poor, but ‘NB-SH91’ will almost always produce full carpels of nice black round seeds that are easy to germinate. I have yet to see flowers from the seedlings, but have high hopes for carrying on the good characteristics of this plant. Registration of this plant is a way off due to its use in hybridizing.


Nate Bremer's
Tree Peony #NB-SH91

Nate Bremer's
Tree Peony #NB-SH95

2. Woody peony 'NB-SH95': is a semi-double red from a cross of 'KC Red' x 'NB37'. The flowers are an interesting shade of red and have much crimping and fine ruffles. It often produces 3 buds per stem and has exceptional carriage. I love the flowers, but the foliage is remarkable-finely cut and more fern-like than any others that I grow. Many of the F1 lutea hybrids have similar foliage characteristics, but not the overall appeal.

3. Woody peony 'NB6': A seedling that has been slow to develop, but for the last couple of years has really shown superior flowers and plant habits. The plant may have shown its true capabilities earlier in its life had it not been transplanted twice and moved to a less than perfect place at the farm. The flowers are very large (9 inches) and are a smoky lavender with outer petals that fade to a light lavender cream (inner petal stay darker). It’s a double flower and often has 3 buds per stem. Carriage is outward, but doesn’t face down. This will be named for Kris Casey, a long time garden friend. This is certainly one of the best plants in my garden-my opinion.


Nate Bremer's Tree Peony #NB6

Nate Bremer's Tree Peony #NB-30

4. Woody peony 'NB-30': A cross of ('Garden Sunshine' x ('Sedona' x 'Rosalind Elsie Franklin'). This is a big semi-double yellow that surpasses all the other woody yellows for color, plant habit and flower size. 'NB-30' was a very popular pollen donor at our hybridizing workshop held this last June. I don’t think any of the flowers had any stamens left after the workshop! There are many other woody peonies that could be included in my list of favorites, but since the seedlings number in the 1000’s now, it would be pointless. A new group of favorites will probably take this one’s place next year, or at least be added to.


Nate Bremer's Tree Peony #NB-8

5. Woody peony 'NB-8': An advanced generation lutea hybrid from a cross of 'Fuchsia Ruffles' x Seidl #144 ('Harvest Peach'). It was awarded a certificate of merit at the 2016 APS flower show. NB8 has been a very good seedling for us and is one that will be registered in the future due to flower and plant quality, plus I like it a lot! Flowers range from semi-double to double, depending on year. Petal color is lavender with dark flares (which are not visible when flowers are double) and they have nice uniform ruffling throughout. Plants are large mounded specimens that have beautiful foliage to the ground and the flowers are carried around and on top. A good vigorous grower that has proven very good in cold Wisconsin. This and many other advanced generation lutea hybrids or ours are really beginning to show their mature beauty. I’m so glad that others at the APS flower show thought highly enough of it to award it a certificate of merit!"

"Some herbaceous hybrid seedlings are beginning to show some great potential and are certainly favored:

1. 'NB-H78' a semi-double pink from a cross of 'Old Faithful' x 'Pastelorama' has been stellar. This plant has outstanding flower carriage and deep green wide foliage. It also won the best seedling award at the 2016 APS flower show.


Nate Bremer's
Tree Peony #NB-H78

Nate Bremer's
Tree Peony #NB-H85

2. 'NB-H85' is a very big double white with a pink blush. A cross of 'Manitowoc Maiden' x 'Pastelegance'. This big plant attracted a great many happy viewers at the 2016 APS garden tour.

3. 'NB-H34' is a huge medium pink double that I can’t wait to release, but needs a few more years of growth before it is ready for other’s gardens. 'NB-H34' is a vertically challenged plant that has very strong stems that carry the massive flowers very well. It has the largest flowers of any peony I grow.


Nate Bremer's Peony #NB-H34

Nate Bremer's Peony #NB-H100


4. 'NB-H100' is a pink-red semi-double to double of unusual form. A cross of 'Little Corporal' x 'Manitowoc Maiden', 'NB-H100' has flowers that open rather flat and as it ages becomes columnar. Gorgeous deep green foliage clothes the rather short plants."

"To date I’ve registered three of my own herbaceous plants: 'Europa', 'Necromancer' and 'Red Hot Babe'. The remaining registrations in this group are Bill Seidl’s creations that he wanted me to register. There will be a few more of Bill’s herbaceous plants that will be introduced when numbers of plants allow. This year I’ll introduce 5 more of my own herbaceous hybrids. Again, these need to go through the APS Registration process."

"The 2016 APS convention, held in Green Bay, this past spring was the first opportunity to show our hybridizing program off to society members. It was the first time I had ever shown peonies flowers, and it was a great experience. We entered quite a few woody peony seedling flowers and came away with 6 Certificates of Merit (one was 'NB-H78', which took the best seedling award). What a surprise and honor!"

"The new woody and herbaceous hybrids will be available for viewing on our website on January 1, 2017 and I’m looking forward to hearing what people think of them."

14. What is the story behind the first peony you ever registered?

"The first peony we registered wasn’t just one, but a group of Bill Seidl's plants that were of great quality. That group was registered in 2013 and contained: 'Pastelorama', 'Angel Emily', 'Captain Kate', 'Little Corporal', 'Juliska', 'Theresa Anne', 'Sedona', 'Dreamtime' and 'Vanilla Schnapps'. Since all of these were originated by Bill they all have their own stories that are personal to Bill. This was a really good group of plants that had, in many cases, been selected over a very long period (20 years+) in Bill’s gardens and then in Solaris Farms’ fields. Bill was interested in propagating and distributing them, but wanted them in other’s gardens, thus I was glad to do so. 'Angel Emily' was a plant that was very appealing to me in 2000 and remains so today. It is woody rockii hybrid from a cross of 'Rock's Variety' x 'Schintenchi'. I was awe struck upon seeing it in Bill’s garden in 2001. The thirty year old plant had more than 100 flowers evenly displayed across its 8 foot wing span (6+ height). Being a rockii hybrid it has the dark central flares that often are found in this group of hybrids, and the foliage is made up of many fine leaflets. The plant has been photographed with many peony people that have visited Bill’s gardens over the years and serves a wonderful record of both plant and people. In the 1990’s Bill met Kris Casey and her young family. The Casey’s would often come to visit Bill, and one of Kris' daughters (Emily) took a liking to the plant. Thus the plant was quickly dubbed 'Angel Emily'. Emily herself is quite an angel. Interestingly, Roger Anderson made the same cross the very same year and registered a plant from the cross called ‘Angel Choir’. Both are extremely floriferous and quite beautiful."


Tree Peony 'Angel Emily'

15. What is the average length of time you evaluate a peony before you put it on the market?

"Evaluating seedlings can be a long process or a fairly short one, depending on growth rate and climate conditions. From the year 2000 to 2010 our area of the country had periods of severe drought, inconsistent snowfall and above average temperatures. These conditions were not good for evaluating seedlings for registration purposes and certainly not for plant growth. We don't irrigate or protect our plants in any way. Thus we get a true view of how a plant does in adverse conditions. During that period of time evaluation was slow, and some plants were looked at for better than 10 years of bloom. The past 5 years have had better growing conditions with some rather unusual fluctuations (wet, cool, early spring time) that have revealed other problems, mostly disease related weaknesses. The better growing conditions have allowed us to look at a plant for as little as 4 or 5 blooming seasons before making more final decisions. Usually after 3 years of bloom the selected keeper plants are divided for the first time. Sometimes the division process reveals weaknesses as well. Some plants don't easily divide or grow poorly after division (or even die). While it is sad to see a good selected seedling do poorly after division, it does reveal a weakness that must be considered before introduction."

16. How do you come up with the names for your peonies?

"Naming peonies is a fun task and is quite different than naming daylilies. In the daylily world it is quite acceptable to choose risky names or those on the edge, while the peony world would prefer more elegant and respectful names. Reiner Jakubowski was quite helpful with this. I like to name my plants after places or things that have invoked a pleasant memory. Example: 'Manchurian Promise' …reminds me of the Manchurian Apricot bloom color in the spring and makes me think of that region of China with them in bloom. Generally we'd like to pick a name that others would like to see in their gardens."


Nate Bremer's Tree Peony 'Manchurian Promise'

17. Which of your peonies have proved to be the most popular with the public? Were any of these a surprise?

"This year I think 'Aegean' surprised me the most. The plant ended up being in high demand and sold out very quickly. 'Aegean' is a huge light pink double that fades to white and presents its bloom in excellent fashion. When I registered it I had never gotten seed or seen good pollen on the plant (8 years of watching and trying). Well this year it proved me wrong on both fronts. Good pollen was produced and lots of seeds on its multi-carpeled flowers. What a pleasant surprise. I sell many of my new introductions to hybridizers, and I doubt that many were interested in 'Aegean' due to its presumed infertility. Well now that one can be added to the fertile list of woody peonies. I guess this brings up the question: How long does one wait to register a peony? Probably the most popular peonies we've registered have been 'Angel Emily', 'Vanilla Schnapps' and 'Pastelorama' all mention prior to this."


Nate Bremer's Tree Peony 'Aegean'

18. What excites you about other hybridizers programs?

"As hybridizers we all build our own programs on the shoulders of those who preceded us. I'm thankful for all of the hard work prior to our work with peonies. Some exciting break throughs have been made recently by Hans Maschke of Germany with the tenufolias. I'm looking forward to incorporating his work into our early blooming types. Many new hybridizers are starting to pop up in the peony world, and it will be interesting to see what they come up with. I know that many are working with Saunders' hybrids and are making some interesting gains, and I'm looking forward to the increased fertility of these new hybrids."

19. Has the pleasure you have taken from the world of peonies changed and evolved over the years?

"Growing, hybridizing and the enjoyment of peonies has certainly evolved over the years. In the early years I was certainly more interested in large showy flowers and generally ignored the beauty of the plants themselves. Now plants are easily as important as the flowers in my eyes. I also have come to enjoy all aspects of growing and propagating the plants. Dividing herbaceous plants is not a particularly enjoyable job, but grafting the woody peonies has become something that I look forward to each year. Since woody peonies, especially lutea hybrids, are not readily available and propagated, the concept of producing more for the American public to enjoy is exciting. Grafting the scions to herbaceous nurse roots in its self is an enjoyable activity and the entire process of healing them and growing the grafts is rewarding. There is nothing like seeing a three year old grafting bed, with 50 to 60 different cultivars in full bloom in a concentrated area (kind of like a candy shop with many flavors and colors). The grafting of woody seedlings for the first time brings much excitement for the future and keeps me thinking of what is to come. The same could be said for dividing herbaceous seedlings for the first time. Will these plants become large beautiful clumps? Will they behave similarly after division or grafting? Are there possible new generations that will arise from the newly propagated plants? Will people like what my eye sees as pleasing? Will these become nice show flowers in a cut flower display (something I experienced for the first time this year)? Who will begin to use these plants in their hybridizing programs?"

20. What would you like to say to newbies just getting into the world of hybridizing peonies?

"Start out with some basic crosses first that will keep you interested in the first couple of years. Difficult crosses (intersectional or low fertility crosses) can be frustrating and may dampen the experience initially, so start with something that will produce seeds that grow. Growing the seed and seedlings is rewarding to see the fruits of your efforts over the first 4 to 5 years and will keep you trying new crosses. Once you have the basics down, try more difficult crosses that are more unique. Growing too many lactiflora, suffruticosa, or herbaceous hybrid seedlings can begin taking up space with plants that are not likely to produce new and interesting flowers. Don't be afraid to be creative. There is much information that says it can't be done-only to be disproven later on. If you have questions, it's helpful to find a hybridizer or someone else who enjoys the activity to bounce ideas off. I have a number of friends that enjoy the activity of hybridizing, and it always fun to hear what they are doing and develop new ideas. As much as we'd like to think hybridizing is scientific, it is equally artistic. I think hybridizing is a great learning experience, as well as a long term recreation that can be carried on at any stage of life. I do have to admit, I wish I had started early in life."

All Photos Courtesy of Nate Bremer @ Solaris Farms

Sunday, July 17, 2016

2016 Peony Hybridizer Interview - Don Hollingsworth



Peony Hybridizer - Don Hollingsworth

1. Did your early life give you an introduction to the world of plants and flowers?

"Yes, my siblings and I grew up in a pre-World War II rural residential environment, where there was room to have a variety of plants. In addition to fruit plants, and a large vegetable garden, there were landscape shrubs and some beds of flowering plants. Both our parents came from family traditions wherein one raised a large garden and maintained food animals, doing home butchering and food preservation. My mother and her mother both maintained beds of self seeding annual and perennial herbaceous flowering plants, as well as flowering shrubs. I did a lot of reading in those years including poring over seed and nursery catalogs in season. Competing with my entries from 4-H and Vocational Agriculture projects helped to cultivate my appreciation for producing quality items."

2. What year did you start hybridizing?

"With plants, about 1958, while employed by University Extension in Maryville, Missouri, after it became practicable upon gaining continuing access to some growing space (by marriage). A couple of years before I had been introduced to the idea of doing peony breeding by Leola ‘Missie” Bainum, a Maryville Garden Club member who had some of her own select peony seedlings, one a fine show winner. However, I first dabbled with tall bearded irises and hemerocallises, of which I still grow one of the hems from 1963 crosses. My first peony crosses were made in 1967, a few years after my employment had taken me to Kansas City, Missouri."

3. What made you want to get into peony hybridizing?

"I investigated back garden plant breeding upon failing to find further employment in my first chosen field, beef cattle breeding. After my 1948 BS in Agriculture I had jobs with pedigreed beef cattle in New York, then Texas. In 1954 I accepted employment with the University of Missouri Cooperative Extension Service. Soon I picked up on ornamental plants breeding at home, first exploring irises and hemerocallis. However, I soon concluded there were so many people introducing costly new cultivars of irises and daylilies there wasn’t much chance of competing in those venues short of investing sizable sums to buy into state of the art breeding cultivars, something I did not have available. The frustration with those venues was resolved when I learned Silvia Saunders was cultivating interest in peony breeding and as a part of which making available promising cultivars which had resulted from her father’s projects, selling for token prices to breeding interest customers."

4. Are you self trained, or have you taken classes or read books on hybridizing before you started?

"First I had grown up in a family environment in which choice sorts of domestic plants and animals were appreciated, including appreciation of the selective breeding by which those had been produced. Then in secondary school biology class I was introduced to the significance of Gregor Mendel’s discoveries. Later, at University of Missouri my undergraduate program consisted of two broad thrusts: physical sciences and general agriculture production, plus agriculture business, with special study in breeding science and technology. That was the beginning. In 1961 my Extension Division employment took me to the then recently established University of Missouri-Kansas City, the campus of which is located adjacent to the internationally patronized Linda Hall Library of Science and Technology. The former offered access to the U of MO System Libraries, as well. A further benefit, the private library has a 14 acre grounds maintained as an arboretum, including an extensive collection of herbaceous peonies and, eventually, woody peonies, cared for by a groundskeeper who was as interested in plants study as myself. (Fred Leimkuhler was absolutely unique in my experience in his project of breeding inter-species hybrids of oaks.) At the Linda Hall Library I could pick up on peony research in Horticulture Abstracts, then consult the journal in which the research report was published. In the late 1970s I enrolled in plant biology graduate study – mostly in plant taxonomy study, but with related course work in plant physiology and ecology, as well."

5. How would you characterize your breeding program?

"Deliberate crosses, the parents chosen for their potential to contribute to study interests and to progress toward my breeding goals. By “deliberate” I mean the crosses are made with a purpose in mind, not just willy-nilly. While opportunity (what is flowering when I have the desired pollen in hand) plays a role, the choice of matings is, even so, almost always mindful. This is not to say accidental achievements do not happen. For example, sometimes because I collected open-pollinated seeds from a favored seed parent, sometimes because of contamination of a cross by stray pollen, “stray” meaning unintended contamination of an intended cross - it is a challenge to absolutely protect a peony cross against contaminating pollen."

6. What kind of peonies do you specialize in?

"In the early years much of the effort went toward studying the germination protocols and variation in growth habit between different species ancestries, along with how the peony grows, in general, including in particular the topics of dormancy, resistance of early buds to freeze damage, and how a species evolves and is adapted to survival in its natural environments. One outcome of these earlier years study is that I wrote regularly for the peony hybridists quarterly and for the APS Bulletin. In later years, during the time I was operating the retail nursery, I have been concentrating on transferring doubleness into the first three flowering periods – Very Early to Early midseason. More recently, upon visiting the recently developed late season cut flower enterprise in Alaska, I have been thinking about some approaches to breeding white flower cultivars which do not go blush/light pink when the flower develops in a cool environment and to increase the range of appealing double flower cultivars which open satisfactorily from buds cut before the petals are so much unfurled as we cut for show table competition where the flower must complete opening overnight. Production for florist use requires flowers which can be opened by the end users from buds in which the petals have remained well protected from injury by the bud covers."


Don Hollingsworth's Peony 'My Love'

7. How has your "eye" for evaluating peonies changed over the years?

"One’s “eye” meaning what one is looking for, evaluation of the phenotype? Whereas when I started I was focused primarily on the flower character and interspecies fertility, as experience and contact with other peony breeders informed me, the significance of characteristics needed for commercialization and end user benefits have gained appreciably in my priorities. If observing an introduced plant or one of unknown provenance, then what does it perhaps offer to further breeding. Perhaps the biggest factor as my “eye” evolved was when I became involved in the retail offering (1992, ff). Crafting the Item descriptions does focus one on what is good about the plant for the end user, meaning to be sure to present the cultivar advantages, but also mentioning any significant faults inherent in the subject cv., such as need for support if flowered in a viewed landscape or subject to late freeze damage, as in erratic spring warm-up climates."

8. When you look at a plant as an experienced hybridizer, what do you see?

"The ornamental qualities and harmony of plant and flower as a whole (landscape end user viewpoint), vigor and overall performance in relation to conditions provided by the growing environment where observed, characteristics supporting cut-flower potential, these assets in light of whether the subject plant offers potential for introduction to commerce. Also, in the case of other breeder seedlings and plants of unknown history, what might they contribute for further breeding or for introduction or re-introduction. Probably it was after I commenced commercial offerings in about 1992, I began to realize it is a given that if a cultivar is going to outlive its creator, it must succeed in commerce on its own merits."

9. When you evaluate your seedlings, what are your major criteria?

"First, strong performance and the flower class with its potential for competitive beauty, in its season of bloom. Second, the plant habit with respect to the potential end use. Then, when judged less than competitive in one or both of the previous considerations, does it have potential for further use in breeding – the basic rule in breeding is to mate best to best and watch for progeny that have levels of important desired characteristics to a greater degree than seen in the parents."

10. What are your aspirations for the future of peonies?

"That peonies become ever more widely appreciated (and desired) by the gardening public and the private vendors and services they look to for support of their gardening interests. And, that florist production becomes ever more appreciated by the florist trade with associated gains in demand. The path to both will be somewhat eased by the rate of success achieved by peony breeders."

11. What is your favorite named and registered cultivar so far (of your own) and why?

"So far it is ‘Garden Treasure’. Its overall range of ornamental attributes and its top flight performance. Its vigor is superior, among the most resistant of fungi among the garden peonies, widely adapted in regional climates when typical peony growing needs are met. Unlike any other peony cultivar known to me it opens flowers over an extended period, two and a half weeks or more in my regional climate where spring heat pushes peony flowering, up to four weeks or more at more northerly sites, such as Minnesota and northward. Hardy and performs well in the harsh climates of Saskatchewan and Alberta in Canada. It is highly suited for landscape applications and fields of it are producing for the florist trade in the both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, said to be the only Itoh Hybrid suitable for the purpose. Semi-double to Double flowers are well formed, golden yellow, deep green attractive foliage compares well lasting through the summer with the better Lactiflora cultivars in this respect. More personal, it resulted from a cross I made in my second season of breeding peonies, 1968, and jumbo divisions sell retail from reputation growers for $60.00 and more."


Don Hollingsworth's Peony 'Garden Treasure'

12. Which of your peonies are your oldies but goodies?

"Defining my “oldies” arbitrarily as those registered any time before 1995, the first registered having been in 1984, in alpha sequence: ‘Color Magnet’, ‘Delaware Chief’, ‘Early Glow’, ‘Garden Lace’, ‘Garden Treasure’, ‘Lorelei’, ‘Many Happy Returns’, ‘My Love’, Prairie Princess, ‘Show Girl’, ‘Summer Glow’ and ‘Sweet Melody’. That is 12 of 16 registered during that period. Of the other four, all are excellent performers and the flowers are appreciated by customers, but in my view get a demerit for some plant or flower habit. Only one has been discarded, ‘Pink Crescendo’, vigorous with a big doubled flower that is too often disfigured by late freeze damage during bud development."

     
Don Hollingsworth's
Peony 'Color Magnet'
Don Hollingsworth's
Peony 'Garden Lace'


Don Hollingsworth's Peony 'Early Glow'

13. Which of your new registrations are you most excited about?

"In the last five years, oldest to newest, ‘Kathy’s Touch’, ‘Nelda’s Joy’, ‘Pearl S. Buck’ and ‘Early Canary’."


Don Hollingsworth's Peony 'Nelda's Joy'

     
Don Hollingsworth's
Peony 'Early Canary'
Don Hollingsworth's
Peony 'Kathy's Touch'

14. What is the story behind the first peony you ever registered?

"There were six of them in 1984. ‘Garden Treasure’ genesis offers the most interesting story. It was a struggle to get the parts together to make the cross. The story: By 1967 or so I knew the history of the four Louis Smirnow introduction of the yellow flower hybrids plants bred by Toichi Itoh of Japan, (a Lactiflora cultivar X pollen of Lutea Hybrid ‘Alice Harding’). A year or so later I determined to repeat the cross, but I did not have the pollen in sight. I wrote to the garden editor of the Kansas City Star, who also did landscape design services, expecting he might be a better than average source of where peony ‘Alice Harding’ might be found in KC gardens. He did not know, but when his weekly newspaper column appeared the following Sunday, the subject of his column was my story and appeal. I did not expect much from it, but to my delight a few days later there surfaced a fellow in Independence, a suburb on the eastern fringes of the metro area, pleased as punch to know he had something rare. I had my pollen, but meanwhile my peonies were all bloomed out. A few days later was the Memorial Day holiday, and our annual trip to Maryville to visit my wife’s parents, right here where I live now. Along the driveway were very old peonies, one of which had a few sidebud flowers remaining, to which I applied my pollen. That autumn I collected five seeds, three of which were germinated indoors over winter and in time made leafy shoots. When planted outside to grow, within days some worm-size beast managed to cut through the root on one of them, resulting in its loss. Of the two remaining, the best became ‘Garden Treasure’. It made excellent growth the first year, was moved the first autumn, made the second season of growth and flowered the following spring. Within a few years it became evident we not only had achieved one of the first American bred Itoh Hybrids, but one that is especially healthy and having an unprecedented length of flower opening period, two and a half to four weeks or more, depending on how hot the spring warm-up."


Don Hollingsworth's Peony 'Garden Treasure'

15. What is the average length of time you evaluate a peony before you put it on the market?

"A relatively long time. Having an abundance of space to hold seedlings while increasing them is a contributing factor. Introduction depends on having increased a candidate to a desired quantity. My practice has been to not register a name until we decide to introduce it in the upcoming annual catalog. When seedlings first flower or within a season or two some will be selected for further observation. We have normally divided and grown to maturity for at least two cycles before any decision to cull. Re-selected items are then grown in propagation cycles, pending a decision to name and introduce."

16. How do you come up with the names for your peonies?

"Various. The names I choose are intended to avoid cutsie stuff. I do take the chore seriously, rarely resolving the question “on the spur of the moment”."

17. Which of your peonies have proved to be the most popular with the public? Were any of these a surprise?

"‘Garden Treasure’, ‘Many Happy Returns’, ‘My Love’, ‘LaDonna’, ‘Lorelei’, ‘Summer Glow’, ‘Show Girl’, ‘Pink Teacup’" That is an interesting question. The simple answer is no, perhaps following from the fact that I am more conscious of being gratified when one of my originations earns popularity. Somehow the elements leading to the possibility of surprise seem to have been relatively insignificant in my perspective on breeding and new cultivar origination.


Don Hollingsworth's Peony 'LaDonna'


Don Hollingsworth's Peony 'Lavon'

     
Don Hollingsworth's
Peony 'Summer Glow'
Don Hollingsworth's
Peony 'Lorelei'

18. What excites you about other hybridizers programs?

"Their successes validate my faith in the findings of breeding science and the application of what we learn therefrom."

19. Has the pleasure you have taken from the world of peonies changed and evolved over the years?

"Yes, I reckon it happened because breeding peonies is a long term proposition. Keeps one “at it” in the beginning. Then, when some things appear that pleases, the satisfaction grows."

20. What would you like to say to newbies just getting into the world of hybridizing peonies?

"Peony breeding is a great creative outlet and offers pretty much a level playing field, very little big operator competition. The investor money goes to species which afford a quicker turnover. We compete with hobbyists and sometimes small retail growers Getting started need not require a bunch of cost. For most of us we at first did some crosses of opportunity, just to see what happens. No detailed study necessary beforehand. However, when the first ventures turn into enthusiasm, study becomes a valuable tool. Look at the titles offered at the web site www.AmericanPeonySociety.com. Also, have a look at the Yahoo groups peony breeders and join the American Peony Society for current information on new cultivars being registered by breeders who have been at it for a while."

All Photos Courtesy of Don Hollingsworth @ Hollingsworth Peonies

Monday, July 11, 2016

2016 Second Peony Hybridizer Interview Coming Soon!

I have a few peony hybridizer interviews in the works, but one more will be coming soon. I have the interview done, and I just need to finish working on the photos. I'll give you a hint at who it is... He's in my profile picture here. :-) So I guess you could say I have admired his work for a while, not just his work with actual peony hybridizing, but all of his contributions to the peony world. I'm sure I don't even know all of them, but hopefully this article will help me and you get to know him a little better. I can't wait to finish the interview, article, (and loads of photos), and share it with all of you. Stay tuned!!!

Southern Peony Profile Picture

Monday, April 11, 2016

2016 Peony Hybridizer Interview - Don R. Smith



Peony Hybridizer - Don R. Smith

1. Did your early life give you an introduction to the world of plants and flowers?

"When I was a child, we lived in a small house with a small yard in a little town in northeast New Jersey. Neither of my parents were gardeners, but I remember a small patch of rhubarb growing next to our garage. I was always impressed by how huge the leaves would grow. There was also a very large Mock Orange “bush” (Philadelphus Coronarius), which always seemed to attract a lot of different types of birds. I don’t remember much else about the yard except for a small garden with 3 very large old peony plants that were left behind by the people who lived in our house before us. I can’t remember if there were 2 reds and one white or the other way around, but I know that my mother really loved those old peonies. My guess is that the white was probably Festiva Maxima and that the red was Felix Crousse. To this day, rhubarb is my favorite pie and peonies are my favorite flower."

2. What year did you start hybridizing?

"I first became interested in hybridizing in the early 1970’s, when I dabbled around for a little while without much success, but then my attention and interest got diverted by several major research projects at work and then later by marriage, children and family responsibilities. It took me until the early 1990’s before I could find the time to return to gardening and again pursue my interest in hybridizing. My first intersectional peony hybrid appeared in 1993."

3. What made you want to get into peony hybridizing?

"I think it was my need to try to create something new and beautiful as opposed to just collecting and growing the beautiful creations of others. I guess it is a little like the need that many people have to participate in a sport as a player rather than being just a spectator."

4. Are you self trained, or have you taken classes or read books on hybridizing before you started?

"I have no formal or informal training in horticulture or breeding. Most of what I have learned comes from reading articles on plant breeding and from years of hands-on (trial and error) experience in my garden. So, I guess you could say that, I learned by following the advice of others at the beginning and then picked up the rest as I went along."

5. What kind of peonies do you specialize in?

"From the very first time that I saw a bright yellow tree peony hybrid, I have been infatuated with the idea of yellow peonies. I purchased and collected as many as I could afford at the time. Then I learned about the existence of yellow “herbaceous” peonies called Itoh or intersectional hybrids, so I had to get some of these new peonies as well. But soon, just growing these stunning new peonies wasn’t enough. I needed to try to create some of these remarkable new peonies myself. At the time, there were only a handful of intersectional peonies in existence, so this seemed like this might be a very fruitful direction to pursue. Twenty plus years later, hybridizing intersectional peonies remains the singular passion of my life."


Don R. Smith's Intersectional Peonies

6. How would you characterize your breeding program?

"I consider myself to be a serious amateur breeder specializing in developing new and improved intersectional peonies. However, over the last 20+ years, my hybridizing goals have evolved, so that today my primary focus is on creating fertile advanced generation intersectional hybrids. This is important, if this remarkable new hybrid group is to survive and eventually become a new race of peonies where their survival is not dependent on man. This is important because the first generation hybrids are highly sterile triploids, which very rarely produce viable seeds."

7. How has your "eye" for evaluating peonies changed over the years?

"Over the years, I have learned to focus less on the flowers, and especially on things like flower size and form, but instead to focus more of my attention on the value of these plants in the garden. Thus, I look more at features like flower presentation and the number and quality of the sidebud flowers, both of which lead to more desirable landscape plants and a longer period of bloom."

8. When you look at a plant as an experienced hybridizer, what do you see?

"I see a plant for the garden or landscape setting. Which means, I focus on many aspects of the plant, not just the flowers. This includes plant habit, foliage and flower presentation. Yes, the flowers are important too, but they are not everything. The number of flowers and the number of days that the plant stays in bloom are also very important, as are characteristics such as health, vigor and resistance to disease."

9. When you evaluate your seedlings, what are your major criteria?

"I rate all of my intersectional peony seedlings according to their overall landscape value, which is to say, how the plants look in the garden and the landscape as most gardeners usually view and enjoy their flowers. After much thought, I finally settled on three main factors to use in my evaluation process."

"First is the number and presentation of the flowers. This can best be evaluated by the average number of sidebud flowers per stem and from the strength of the main and auxiliary stems. The second factor is the plant habit, vigor and health, which includes the attractiveness and disease resistance of the plant and especially the foliage. The third factor is the overall quality and attractiveness of the flowers, which includes things like flower color, size and form, but also uniqueness in color pattern, such as flares, stripes, speckles and picotee edges."

Don R. Smith's Unnamed Seedlings

10. What are your aspirations for the future of peonies?

"Until fairly recently, there were only two major types of peonies, the herbaceous type and the woody type, which are generally referred to as tree peonies. Now, of course, we have a third type of peonies that are semi-woody in habit, which are the intersectional or Itoh peonies. The first two groups are fertile and thus self-sustaining, but the intersectional group are all still first-generation (F1) hybrids and thus as a group are extremely sterile. I recently estimated the chances of obtaining a viable seed from an intersectional hybrid by open pollination to be less than 1 in 6 million. This extraordinary infertility is in large part due to the fact that these first-generation hybrids are all triploids with three sets of chromosomes, which makes normal meiosis nearly impossible. Despite this, it is my dream to see this important new group of peonies become self-sustaining as well. Thus, in recent years, I have shifted my emphasis significantly towards trying to produce a few second generation (F2) or back-cross (BC) hybrids with the hope that some of these plants will have their fertility, at least, partially restored."

10(a). So, how is this work going so far?

"I would have to say “slow, but steady”. In the previous 4-5 years, I have identified a few “special” hybrids from the 300+ blooming intersectional hybrids in my garden that have exhibited a small degree of fertility as either pollen or seed parents. Working primarily with these selected hybrids, I made many hundreds of intersectional back-crosses (IBC), using intersectional pollen on various lactiflora varieties in my garden. Then, in the last two years, I also made hundreds of back-crosses in the opposite direction, this time using the intersectional hybrids as the seed parent. Thus, using pollen from various lactiflora varieties and fertile advanced generation herbaceous hybrids onto the selected intersectional seed parents. As a result of this latest effort, I now have 2 surviving reverse intersectional back-cross (RIBC) seedlings from two different intersectional hybrid seed parents. So now, we will have to wait to see if these unique hybrids will survive to maturity and whether they will display better fertility than their intersectional seed parents. Fully restored fertility in this group will require progeny that have returned to the diploid level or elevated to the tetraploid level."

11. What is your favorite named and registered cultivar so far (of your own)?

"This is a question that I get a lot. But, picking a single variety as my “favorite” is a little like being asked which one of your children is your favorite. How do you answer such as question? It is even hard for me to pick my top three or five varieties, never mind my favorite one. This being said, if I had to choose only one, I would have to pick Pink Double Dandy, which is being sold by Monrovia under the tradename, Keiko."


Don R. Smith's Peony 'Pink Double Dandy' (Keiko)

11(a). So what makes Pink Double Dandy so special?

"Well, PDD has just about everything you could want in a garden/landscape plant. First, it is extremely floriferous with mature specimens routinely having close to a hundred flowers in a season. Next, the flowers are near perfectly presented just above and beyond the beautiful foliage. This plant blooms in two distinct, but overlapping, waves of flowers with the later blooming sidebud flowers being consistently more double than the earlier terminal flowers. The color is a lovely shade of deep lavender pink which becomes deeper towards the flower center. It is easily among the top 2 or 3 performers in my garden each and every year."


Don R. Smith's Peony 'Pink Double Dandy' (Keiko)

12. Which of your peonies are your oldies but goodies?

"It is hard for me to think about any of my hybrids as “oldies” since only a handful of my varieties have been widely available for more than several years. Having said this, I would say that only ones that I could put into such a category would be Singing in the Rain, Magical Mystery Tour and Yankee Doodle Dandy."


Don R. Smith's Peony 'Yankee Doodle Dandy'

13. Which of your new registrations are you most excited about?

"Other than Pink Double Dandy (Keiko) which we have already discussed, I would have to say that the one variety that I am most excited about is a little known variety called Scrum-didley-umptious. This variety is one of my most consistent and reliable performers. One of the features, which makes this variety so special, is that the sidebud flowers are not only plentiful, but also extremely double. Like PDD, this plant has just about everything that you could want in a peony. Unfortunately, due to its limited availability in the marketplace, it has remained greatly under-appreciated. I believe in time this variety will become one of my best intersectional hybrids and will eventually find a place near the top of the list of the finest intersectional hybrid peonies. Every year this remarkable plant is covered with very large, fully double flowers that are perfectly displayed just above and beyond the beautiful foliage. It blooms early and stays in bloom for up to 3 weeks or more. The flowers are pale yellow heavily flushed and suffused with pink when first open, thus appearing light pink. Mature flowers are cream flushed with light pink and highlighted by darker pink flares."


Don R. Smith's Peony 'Scrumdidleyumptious'

14. What is the story behind the first peony you ever registered?

"The first of my intersectional hybrids to bloom flowered in 2000. Although, it didn’t look that special in its first year of bloom, this plant turned out to be an exceptional variety, which was later registered, along with 11 other varieties in 2004, under the name Singing in the Rain. The name came to me one day when several visitors were scheduled to visit my garden for the first time. As luck would have it, it poured all night long the night before my guests were to arrive, and I was sure that my garden would look like a total mess when my guests arrived the next morning. To my surprise, when we walked down to the garden that morning, most of the plants looked better than I had imagined, but one in particular looked really fantastic. As I walked through my garden that morning, the name Singing in the Rain jumped into my head and I couldn’t get the tune from the 1952 movie out of my head all day. It was right there and then that I knew I had the perfect name for my very first named variety. The following year, I counted 155 flowers on this extraordinary plant, which remains the largest number of flowers I have ever counted on a single plant in my garden. In 2014, the peony was selected as the “Peony of the Year” by the Canadian Peony Society."


Don R. Smith's Peony 'Singing in the Rain'

15. What is the average length of time you evaluate a peony before you put it on the market?

"The evaluation process starts when the seedlings are in their first year of growth, but, of course, there is not really much to evaluate during the first few years except for the foliage and the overall health and vigor of the plant. Serious evaluation begins in the second year of bloom, which usually occurs when the plants are 6-7 years old. From this point, adequate evaluation usually requires an additional 2 or 3 more years."

16. How do you come up with the names for your peonies?

"For the most part, my naming process is pretty random. I collect names that I come across or think of in a file on my computer for future use. They can come from almost anywhere; music, movies, Broadway shows, advertisements, etc. When I see a name somewhere that I like and think that I might want to use someday, I write it down and add it to my file. Sometimes, the plant or flower dictates a name such as was the case with Singing in the Rain. Other times I wait for a plant that seems to fit a name that I really like and that I am determined to use at some point with some variety such as with Magical Mystery Tour."


Don R. Smith's Peony 'Magical Mystery Tour'

17. Which of your peonies have proved to be the most popular with the public? Were any of these a surprise?

"My most popular varieties have been Singing in the Rain, Yankee Doodle Dandy and Smith Family Yellow, partially because these varieties have been more widely available than many of my others hybrids. Recently, however, Pink Double Dandy (Keiko) has become extremely popular as well."


Don R. Smith's Peony 'Smith Family Yellow'

18. What excites you about other hybridizers programs?

"I have long been very interested in the hybridizing programs of a number of other breeders, but especially those of Bill Seidl and Bernard Chow. Bill has been hybridizing peonies for close to half a century and, in that time, has produced a remarkable number of unique and extraordinary advanced generation herbaceous hybrids, such as Pastelegance, Carnation Bouquet, Valkyrie and The Little Corporal, just to name a few. These hybrids are notable, in large part, because they all contain at least 5 or more different species in their genetic makeup. In addition, Bill has also worked extensively with advanced generation (lutea) tree peony hybrids originated by Daphnis and Reath and produced many wonderful tree peony hybrids. He also distributed many of his fertile hybrids and hybrid seeds to other hybridizers throughout the world. One of these hybridizers was Bernard Chow in Melbourne, Australia. Bernard continued this work in Australia by cross breeding these AG hybrids and produced 100’s of beautiful new varieties in nearly every color, including many that are 7th, 8th and even 9th generation hybrids. In addition, he has been helping me for many years by sending me pollen from many of his best new hybrids. This has given me the opportunity to try close to 100 different tree peony pollens in my intersectional breeding program. Up to now, I probably have close to a hundred intersectional seedlings from these various pollens. And so, the progress continues with each new generation of breeders building on the hard work and success of those who came before them. So, in a way you could say that things have come full circle – “Around the world and back again”, going from the US to Australia and then back to the US."

19. Has the pleasure you have taken from the world of peonies changed and evolved over the years?

"The pleasure that I have received from my interest in peonies has increased greatly since I began hybridizing and growing my own peonies. Now, after many years of breeding my own intersectional peonies, I take great pleasure from seeing my hybrids being displayed by others at the annual flower shows as well as in public and private gardens all over the country."

20. What would you like to say to newbies just getting into the world of hybridizing peonies?

"Don’t be afraid to try something new that you are not sure you will be good at. I’m proof that you don’t need to have experience or training to be successful at hybridizing. Furthermore, you don’t have to be especially great at it in order to experience the joy and satisfaction of creating your own hybrid peonies. Hybridizing peonies is easy and rewarding and will greatly increase the joy and pleasure which you derive from your garden."

All Photos Courtesy of Don R. Smith
@ The Wonderful World of Intersectional Peonies