Last winter, bulb grower Scott Kunst of Old House Gardens sent out an appeal to customers to help him rescue endangered heirloom peonies:
"When I first started collecting heirloom plants in the 1970s, I was elated to discover a small, family-owned nursery in Iowa with an enormous list of peonies. Founded in 1887, Sherman Nursery was especially rich in peonies from the nineteenth century, many of which were no longer available anywhere else," Mr. Kunst wrote in his newsletter. "Unfortunately, like many nurseries Sherman’s was hard hit by the economic downturn, and in 2009 it was sold to a much larger Midwestern grower. When I heard the news I was worried about their peonies, because wholesalers typically make their money by selling large volumes of relatively few varieties, but I was busy and . . . before I knew it, instead of the 111 peonies that Sherman’s was growing in 2001, only 56 were still available – and last month we learned that 17 more will be dropped next year.
"Although there’s no way Old House Gardens can save all of those peonies," Mr. Kunst wrote, "we’re doing what we can. Stay tuned."
A few months later, the new fall catalog from Old House Gardens is offering three of those endangered peonies:
Above: 'Frances Willard,' named for a social reformer who urged women to "do everything," dates to 1907; it reaches a height of 34 inches and is hardy from zones three to seven (S) and through zone eight on the West Coast. It's $21 apiece from Old House Gardens. Photograph by Mbgna via Flickr.
Above: 'Polar Star' is a Japanese peony first grown in 1932; bees love its yellow center. Hardy from zones three to seven (S) and through zone eight on the West Coast. It's $15 apiece from Old House Gardens. Photograph by Chatham Gardens via Flickr.
Above: 'Walter Faxon,' which can reach heights of up to 32 inches, is hardy from zones three to 8a (S) and to zone 8b on the West Coast. It's $16.50 apiece from Old House Gardens. Photograph by Posy's Dreams via Flickr.