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~ A Visit to Ken Clare's Peony Superstore ~

Ken Clare of Frankford, Ontario, grows over and astounding 1400 varieties of peonies, so it is no surprise many that not all are featured on his Peony Superstore Website.

Clare has made himself into the curator of what can only be described as a private peony museum. His enthusiasm for collecting every known cultivar he learns of has resulted in importing peonies from Europe, China, Japan, even New Zealand. Bringing the plants into Canada from such faraway places can be a challenge. In fact, some cultivars were brought into the US first, grown in a US field by a fellow peony friend before being dug out and shipped to Canada with proper phytosanitary documentation.

Walking through the endless rows of meticulously labelled peonies was a delightful experience. For most of us that are mostly familiar with the drooping, double peonies seen in the garden centers, the varieties of peony cultivar can be a revelation. Not to mention how easy it is to compare cultivars with your own eyes, rather than garden photographs.

As I zigzagged my way from one eye-catching peony to another, Ken pointed out that I had a preference for singles. But since I was looking for unusual colors with little thought to the number of petals, I had to conclude that single peonies often feature flashier colors than their heavy double counterparts.

I was looking forward to seeing the "cactus" peonies, after seeing their nearly-abstract, artistically dis-shivelled petals in photographs. I was disappointed by their small size, and from a distance, they look like faded, dying blooms. I would see some use for them in places where they would only be seen up close.

I was instantly drawn to a great number of deep pink singles with such intense color saturation, they litteraly glowed. This color is simply not captured by cameras, it cannot be reproduced on a computer screen, you have to see it in person. If you are looking for something unusually bright that will make a very strong impact in your garden, I recommend any of the following: 'Cytherea,' 'Ellen Cowley,' 'Eventide,' 'Grace Root', 'May Dawn,' 'Palidin,' 'Paula Fay,' 'Red Triumph,' and 'Rose Diamond.' They may look like simple pink/red/magenta peonies in print or on screen, but in the garden, they will grab your attention, and will not let go.

I was also curious to see if the coral peonies were really coral, if there was a noticeable difference between the pinks and the corals. I now can say that the coral peonies are a class onto themselves. I would say that they are so different to be difficult to place near a standard pink peony; they might clash and be more advantageously featured near a white, white with yellow centers, or even some of the light herbaceous yellow peonies. 'Coral Sunset' was the coral that most diverged from pink, to the point of being near a peachy orange. 'Coral Charm' was quite similar, perhaps more subdued in the orange tones, and 'Pink Hawaiian Coral' slightly more pink. The differences were subtle.

And now, for the novelty yellow peonies. I tend to be skeptical of novelties, they are often not as advertised, and not always better than the more conventional varieties. However, I am completely sold on the yellows, I am a convert. The herbaceous yellow peonies don't fade to near white in the manner of pink peonies, they do fade a little but they do remain distinctly "lemonade" yellow. A combination of such a yellow, a white and a coral would make a stunning display in any garden. One cannot speak of yellows without mentioning 'Bartzella,' and Itoh peonies. These are crosses between tree and herbacous that grow and flower like herbaceous peonies, but with a greater variety of colors that includes more intense yellows, and flatter double flowers with silky petals. What makes Bartzella so impressive is the sheer size of the flowers, giant dinner plates 8" across in a yellow that glows without being harsh. It has tremendous potential as a garden centerpiece. Many worthy Itoh yellow are available, such as 'Golden Experience,' 'Garden Treasure,''Lemond Dream,' 'Oriental Gold,' or the single 'Sequestered Sunshine.' What sets Bartzella apart is the number of petals and the size, it is not a noticeably deeper yellow than similar cultivars. 'Golden Glow' and the very pricy 'Lemon Chiffon,' being herbaceous peonies, are somewhere between whilte and the Itoh yellow.

Itoh peonies are more than novelty yellows. The single, peachy orange 'Angelette' is highlighted with stunning, blood orange markings, 'Cora Louise' is just lovely in white with deep pink and the base of its petals, while 'Hillary' and 'Julia Rose" feature sunset copper pinks so unusual that they are best used as focal points.

The fields are not open to visitors. Ken ships his peony roots in the fall.

Most Eyecatching in the Field
Click to enlarge

alley cat peony Alley Cat

angelette peony Angelette

peony bartzella Bartzella (bud)

peony bartzella Bartzella (bloom)

peony black swan Black Swan

candy stripe peony Candy Stripe

do tell peony Do Tell

cheddar royal peony Cheddar Royal

peony cherry twist Cherry Twist

peony coral charm Coral Charm

itoh peony cora louise Cora Louise

candy stripe peony Coral Sunset

Cytherea peony Cytherea

Ellen Cowley peony Ellen Cowley

peony Eventide Eventide

peony Fancy Nancy Fancy Nancy

Fantastic peony Fantastic

Golden Experience peony Golden Experience

Golden Glowa peony Golden Glow

Golden Wheel peony Golden Wheel

peony Grace Root Grace Root

peony Heidi Heidi

Hillary peony Hillary

Julie ROse peony Julie Rose

Lemon Chiffon peony Lemon Chiffon

Lemon Dream peony Lemon Dream

May Dawn Peony May Dawn

peony Old Rose Dandy Old Rose Dandy

Oriental Gold peony Oriental Gold

Palidin peony Palidin

Paula Fay peony Paula Fay

pink hawaiian coral peony Pink Hawaiian Coral

May Dawn Peony President Lincoln

peony red charm Red Charm

red triumph peony Red Triumph

coralngold peony Coral N Gold

Rose Diamond peony Rose Diamond

sequestered sunshine peony Sequestered Sunshine

Superior Peony Superior

vanilla twist peony Vanilla Twist

white cap peony White Cap

whittley major peony Whittley Major

Ken Clare with some of his 1400 varieties of peonies.

Canadian Peony Links

The Peony Database - Multilingual photographic and registration database of peony cultivars.
Peony Super Store - Run by Ken Clare, offering an amazing selection of herbaceous and tree peonies. Grown in Ontario.
Planteck - Young plants of highly desirable Itoh cultivars can be obtained at a fraction of the cost from this micropropagator.
Pivoinerie D'Aoust - Eclectic selection of lovely peonies.
Pivoines Capano - Nice selection from Quebec grower includes Itoh cultivars.
Fraser's Thimble Farms - BC producer.

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