Carsten Burkhardt's Web Project Paeonia - The Peony Library

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The Manual of the American Peony Society


Copyright 1928 by American Peony Society

179_peonies for the market


By Harry F. Little

EVER SINCE old Pceonia officinalis rubra first found place in our grandmothers' gardens, the peony has been highly esteemed as the Decoration Day flower. Its easy culture, its early blooming-time, and its large and showy blossoms have made it the most dependable and the most appreciated of all outdoor plants for this purpose. On this account, more than any other, peonies were first widely planted, and even now the first peonies in many gardens are planted to furnish Decoration Day flowers. Much of the present-day popularity of the peony must be credited to this appreciation of its cut blooms.

As cut-flowers, peonies have long enjoyed a ready market whenever they were available for Decoration Day sale and other seasonable events, but until recent years their sale was limited to the more or less local demand and was restricted to a short season. They were a comparatively unimportant item on the wholesale markets and were seldom seen in the florists' shops.

With the advent of cold storage, the peony, as a market flower, quickly came into its own, and today it holds a commercial place along with the gladiolus and the rose. Peonies have proved so adaptable to cold-storage handling that their normal season of less than three crowded weeks is now extended over as many months. When cut in the bud and properly handled, peonies can be held in storage for many weeks and opened at will in perfect form. On the wholesale market, peonies are now available from the time the first flowers from the South arrive, in early May, until the storage blooms from the North are exhausted in late August.

While the peony is still most appreciated as a Decoration Day flower, and its sale is greatest for that occasion, its market has broadened with its possibilities. Peonies are now an important item in the floral shops throughout their season and are widely sold for all occasions. They are particularly appreciated for wedding and church decoration and for all events where a mass display of gorgeous bloom is desired. Peonies from storage are shipped to southern markets where the plants themselves will not grow, and experimental shipments have proved that their transportation to foreign markets is entirely practicable.





Under these -broadened market possibilities, the culture of peonies for cut-flowers has made rapid progress. Commercial plantings have been made in all parts of the country where peonies thrive. Quantities of blooms are now shipped in season from Missouri, Kentucky,Tennessee, southern Indiana, Virginia, and Maryland for storage and sale in the cities of the North; and there is hardly a market of importance in the country that does not have some local cut-flower planting to help supply the growing demand for peonies. Smaller plantings for the roadside sale of flowers are rapidly being developed along the highways, which will play no small part in the peony sales of the future.

The earlier commercial cut-flower plantings were necessarily composed of varieties then available in quantities at reasonable prices, and we find in them such old varieties as Whitleyi, Fragrans, Edulis Superba, Festiva, Jeanne d'Arc, Grandiflora Rosea, Meissonier, Alexandre Dumas, Docteur Bretonneau (Verdier), Francois Ortegat, Louis van Houtte, Alba Sulfurea, Madame Calot, Duchesse de Nemours, and Modeste Guerin. Later plantings have included Festiva Maxima, Monsieur Jules Elie, Felix Crousse, Madame Ducel, Delicatissima, Reine Hortense, Avalanche, Baroness Schroeder, Madame de Verneville, La Perle, Marie Lemoine, Albert Crousse, and Rubra Superba in generous quantities. Even such fine varieties as Martha Bui-loch, Frances Willard, Mary Brand, Alsace-Lorraine, Sarah Bernhardt (Lemoine), Richard Carvel, Madame Jules Dessert, Marie Crousse, Solange, and Le Cygne have recently found their way to the wholesale market in limited quantities.

With the increasing demand for peony blooms, almost every available variety is being tested for storage qualities, and much information is now being obtained. Some of the choicest garden peonies do not behave well under cold-storage handling, while certain varieties with mediocre ratings hold long and, when removed from storage, open into finer flowers than when developed on the plant. Storage qualities have become an important consideration in determining the ultimate appraisal of new peonies. While newer and finer varieties will undoubtedly replace the old ones as the profitable commercial kinds of the future, certain old peonies have played such an important part in the development of the cut-flower market and have such remarkable storage qualities that they will long retain their place on the desirable cut-flower list and deserve special mention.




Most outstanding of all is Fragrans. This is the oldest Chi-nensis variety of which we have record. It was introduced from China by Sir John Banks in 1805, and until the nomenclature committee of the American Peony Society determined its proper title, it was variously known as Andre Lauries, American Beauty, Fragrantissima, Rosea Plenissima, Chinensis Rubra, Edulis, and Edulis Fragrans. Judged by present-day standards, it is deemed an inferior flower of small size and poor color, but it is these very characteristics, together with its wonderful storage qualities, that make it a distinct and profitable peony. Its small flowers, often not over three inches in diameter, have a peculiar rosy color that becomes almost true American Beauty shade under artificial light, so that, with their distinct form, they appear more like roses than peonies, as we think of them. Their slender, wiry stems make them admirably adaptable to use for table decoration and in all floral piecework. Next in importance is Whitleyi. More commonly known as Queen Victoria, this peony probably has returned bigger cash dividends to its growers than any other variety. It is very free flowering, withstands the abuse of handling, holds up longer in storage, and opens up better than any other white. On this account, it is usually held back until the more tender varieties are disposed of, and is then marketed at favorable prices. Edulis Superba, because of its early flowering season, holds the belt as the greatest Decoration Day peony. Its large size, good form, strong color, and delightful fragrance make this one of the most valuable cut-flower varieties that will not soon be displaced. As market flowers, these three old peonies must be rated higher than Festiva Maxima or Therese.

Certain important features are essential to a good commercial peony. First, it must be a flower of good form and color that is beautiful in bud and at all stages of its development to a full open flower. Varieties with streaked or so-called "candy" buds, such as Bertrade and Madame Emile Lemoine, are objectionable to the florists. A fully double flower is preferable to one that shows stamens, as these sometimes discolor in storage. Then, it must be a free and reliable bloomer and of strong, vigorous growth that will withstand the shock of continued cutting each season. It should have stems of good length with low-set foliage so that, after cutting the flowers with sufficient stems, at least two leaves will remain on the plant. A variety




with a single bud, or with few laterals, is preferable to one that blooms in clusters, as it saves labor of disbudding. Last but not least, a good commercial variety must hold up well in cold storage and open in good form. In general, double flowers with globular centers, like Edulis Superba, Monsieur Jules Elie, Felix Crousse, and Baroness Schroeder, have proved best.

The following brief list includes the best of the tried varieties that can be recommended for cut-flower plantings:

Whites.—Avalanche, Baroness Schroeder, Frances Willard, Duchesse de Nemours (Calot), Madame de Vern6ville, Madame Calot, James Kelway, Alsace-Lorraine, Queen Victoria.

Light Pinks.—Albert Crousse, Delicatissima, Madame Emile Gall£, Lillian Gunim, Milton Hill, Chestine Gowdy, Madame Jules Dessert, Phoebe Gary, and Reine Hortense.

Deep Pinks.—Edulis Superba, Sarah Bernhardt, Monsieur Jules Elie, Madame Ducel, Livingstone, Souvenir de 1'Exposition Uni-verselle, Modeste Gu6rin, Claire Dubois, Martha Bulloch, Fragrans.

Reds.—Félix Crousse, Benjamin Franklin, Richard Carvel, Rachel (Terry), Karl Rosenfield, Mary Brand, and Philippe Rivoire.

Careful consideration should be given to the establishment of a new commercial peony planting. Such a planting becomes a permanent investment, and while it is slow to become established and cannot be counted on for a profitable return until its third or fourth year, it should increase in value and return larger dividends each year thereafter. With proper care and cultivation, it should thrive for many years and yield a bigger and better crop after twenty or twenty-five years than before. With this in mind, its location should be chosen with care, so that it will not have to be disturbed when once established. It should be near to market or handy to transportation facilities, so that the crop can be quickly and cheaply handled. And what is of even greater importance, it should be planted in soil that has the best possible drainage. Peonies will not do well where under-drainage is poor or where water stands about their roots during any portion of the year. In wet locations, the roots will become affected with destructive rots, or they may suffer from heaving by the frost that will prove much more costly to an old planting than an initial cost of drainage.

The ground should be well prepared in advance and built up to a high state of fertility. This is best done by plowing under as deeply as possible a liberal coating of well-rotted stable manure in the fall or early in the spring before the planting is to be done,




and then sowing a green cover-crop of soy beans or buckwheat, to be plowed under in midsummer. Only good healthy roots of the best recommended commercial varieties should be planted. Plant in rows, 3 to 4 feet apart each way, to permit convenient cross cultivation. A handful of bone-meal, thoroughly mixed with the loose soil in the bottom of each hole when planting, will pay. With frequent and thorough cultivation, no further fertilization will be needed for four or five years. Thereafter, a feeding of bone-meal or balanced commercial fertilizer, scattered between the rows and worked in with the cultivation in the spring, each two years, will help keep the soil up to normal fertility. Beware of force-feeding and over-fertilization. Frequent cultivation is the best fertilizer for healthy peonies.

No attempt should be made to cut market flowers until the planting is at least three years old. The foliage is of far greater value to the young plants than any cash return from the flowers. In cutting blooms, even from established plants, it must be remembered that ample foliage is necessary to the vitality of the plants. Experienced growers find it advisable always to leave at least three stems uncut on each plant to support the roots.

For the wholesale market, peonies are cut in the bud with stems at least 15 inches long, and as much longer as the variety will permit. The foliage is stripped off, from the lower half of the stem and the buds are tied in bundles of one dozen or thirteen each for convenient handling, being careful that the stems of each bundle are of uniform length. The exact stage at which the buds are best cut varies with the different varieties and depends somewhat on how the flowers are to be marketed. This is a matter that must be learned from experience. In general, the loose-petaled varieties and the flowers of globular form, such as Edulis Superba, Monsieur Jules Elie and Felix Crousse, should be cut in tight bud just as the first color shows; more compactly petaled varieties and the flowers of true rose form, such as Karl Rosenfield, Baroness Schroeder, and Solange, must be allowed to develop further and are best cut just as the buds begin to soften.

After cutting, the buds should be packed dry for shipment as soon as possible. Light wooden boxes or strong paper cartons, in which ample perforations have been made to allow for circulation of air, make suitable containers. Each bundle should carry a label showing the name of the variety.