Most hybrid peonies to date belong to well-understood categories. Most of these – Japanese, Gansu and so on – are associated with a geographical region, while the Lutea Hybrids and Itoh cultivars are defined by their parentage. In a world where garden plants are distributed widely and quickly, and where information on current breeding is quickly disseminated, there is no reason beyond taste or fashion why these categories should remain clear cut. Hybrids that do not comfortably fit established categories are increasingly appearing.
Both Gansu and Japanese cultivars grow rather well in western Europe and the American northeast, and it is no surprise that hybrids between them have appeared, deliberate and accidental. The colourful British/Swiss gardener Sir Peter Smithers – one of the candidates for a real-life precursor to James Bond (Martin 2006) – selected a number of these, registering several in the 1990s. The Gansu parent was a British seedling descended from the Rock introduction, very likely a ‘Highdown’ seedling; various Japanese parents were used or inferred. Stocks of these and the Gansu parent were passed to the Rivière Nursery, France (Burkhardt 2020; Pivoines Rivière 2020). Other Gansu/Japanese hybrids have been raised by American breeders including William Seidl and Roger Anderson (Bremer 2019), and by Irmtraud Rieck in Germany (Rieck & Rieck 2020). Seedlings of this general parentage, grouped by colour, have been offered by Cricket Hill Garden (2020). It is possible that William Gratwick’s ‘Guardian of the Monastery’ (see Japanese Cultivars) might also belong here. More complex hybrids inevitably appear as time goes on, blurring what might otherwise become a distinct hybrid category. An example would be Rieck’s ‘Rosenrot’ (2018; semi-double with petals varying from pink to red) whose grandparents were wild P. rockii, a Gansu cultivar and a Japanese cultivar (American Peony Society 2020; Rieck & Rieck 2020).
It seems possible that hybrids between ‘Feng Dan Bai’ and Gansu cultivars have appeared from open pollinated seed received as ‘P. ostii’ in a seed exchange. Seedlings raised by Nicola Manisty of Bowringsleigh, Devon included plants resembling ‘Feng Dan Bai’, but also several with purple flares on white or rose petals, usefully compact at well under 1 m tall (N. Manisty, pers. comm., J. Sutton, pers. obs., 2019).
For those wishing to breed really large woody hybrids – probably not a pursuit for the commercially minded – P. ludlowii presents itself as an untapped resource.
Mauve-pink with darker flare; semi-double to 18 cm diameter. Selected by Smithers; first flowered 1987. Parents the Gansu hybrid mentioned above and the Japanese cultivar ‘Kamada Fuji’ (American Peony Society 2020; Pivoines Rivière 2020). A very vigorous plant reaching 1.5 × 1.5 m in Wisconsin (Solaris Farms 2020). Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza was a European industrialist and art collector, a contemporary of Smithers.
Pure white with sharply defined dark red flare; semi-double to 20 cm diameter; tall and vigorous, capable of reaching 2 m height. Raised by Smithers, registered 1990; parents the Gansu hybrid mentioned above and the Japanese cultivar ‘Hindo Desekai’ (American Peony Society 2020; Pivoines Rivière 2020; Solaris Farms 2020). Named for Smithers’ wife Dorothey Jean, known as Dojean.
Lavender with dark purple flares; a rather full semi-double, vigorously growing. Selected by Seidl; registered 1996; parents a Gansu hybrid from the Rock introduction and ‘Kamada Fuji’ (American Peony Society 2020; Bremer 2019).