Three hundred tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa) grace the periphery of BBG's Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden and the north end of Cherry Walk. The plants were presented to BBG in 2002 by the Japanese town of Yatsuka-Cho in Shimane Prefecture “to bring peace of mind to people in the United States” after the events of September 11, 2001. Blooming in late April to early May, the tree peonies are marvels of color, scent, and size.
Six colors of peonies are highlighted in the Tree Peony Collection: red, pink, white, purple, yellow, and maroon. Some of the most prized plants in the collection include the following:
Red: 'Shima Nishiki' and 'Taiyo'
Pink: 'Yachiyo Tsubaki' and 'Saho Hime'
White: 'Godaishu' and 'Ren Kaku'
Purple: 'Kamata Nishiki' and 'Kamata Fuji'
Yellow: 'High Noon' and 'Kingaku'
Maroon: 'Hatsu Garasu' and 'Kohkamon'
Curator Brian Funk
Curator Brian Funk artfully maintains the balance between the man-made and natural elements found in the Japanese Garden. Brian first joined BBG as a gardener's aide in 1999 as it was undergoing a major restoration, a pivotal time for the Japanese Garden. He was promoted to curator in 2000 and given the opportunity to choose new plant selections, including a variety of bamboos, perennials, and shrubs such as Pieris japonica and Nandina domestica, for use as groundcover, shoreline plantings, and privacy around the perimeter. The restoration was recognized in 2001 with the New York Landmark Conservancy's Preservation Award.
The spectacular tree peony specimens currently on display are not the first plants sent from Yatsuka-Cho, Japan. An original shipment of 1,050 tree peonies traveled by ship from Japan in the fall of 2002, bound for both BBG and the Rockefeller State Park Preserve in Sleepy Hollow, New York. The shipment made it to the U.S., but a strike by the longshoremen's union caused the closing of many ports, and the tree peonies sat for weeks in hot, dry containers on a dock in Long Beach, California. Unable to withstand such conditions, the plants died.
Yatsuka-Cho, renowned for its cultivation of rare tree peonies, generously sent a new shipment. Despite arriving in December and being planted during a blizzard in half-frozen soil, these tough plants managed to survive and now thrive in the Garden.