And if you thought that was a mouthful, wait till you see the name of the plant: Paeonia cambessedesii. There are just too many consonants for my mouth to handle! So there must be a good reason for such a tongue-twister and it is the Spanish botanist Jacques Cambessedes who lived from 1799-1863. He studied the flora of the Balearic Islands, particularly Minorca and Majorca and wrote Enumeratio plantarum quas in insulis Balearibus collegit (An enumeration of plants, which he collected in the islands in the Balearic Islands) and because of this (I presume) this peony was named after him.
Paeonia cambessedesii is rare in the wild where it grows in sunny places among limestone rocks. It is probably the earliest peony to bloom, often in March, but is attractive before that. The shoots are beetroot red when they emerge and the stems and petioles retain this colour as the leaves mature. But even then they are distinctive because they have a steely grey hue. The plants rarely reach more than 40cm high and the flowers are about 8cm across. My plant was bought as a small seedling 15 years ago and was planted in a baked spot at the base of a raised bed and soon began to bloom. Most information about the plant says that it is not fully hardy but my plant has lived through the hard winters earlier this decade, in the cold east midlands, without any problems. Unfortunately, in the past few years it has been rather overgrown and has deteriorated a bit and only has two flower stems – less than it had years ago. As the permanent move to Ireland has begun, I dug up my plant, rather roughly, in January, and potted it and it has flowered in its pot (hence the possibility of the unusual angles in some of the photos).
Peonies don’t love being moved but they usually tolerate it with some dignity and I am hoping that my plant will not hate me too much for being potted and moved. I will expect a bit of sulking but that is OK.
The flowers – they are a lovely pink with creamy yellow anthers and are sweetly fragrant – not overly strong but definitely nicely fragrant. If you can find plants for sale they are usually young seedlings and you will need to wait a year or two for flowers but it is worth the wait. A compact peony, that doesn’t need staking, that has lovely leaves, has colourful seedpods and is drought tolerant has a lot going for it.
NB. According to some references I have found, Paeonia cambessedesii is completely hairless. My plant is not – there are short white hairs on the underside of the young leaves (you can see this if you enlarge the pics above). So either the refs are wrong or my plant is not pure Paeonia cambessedesii. It looks like Paeonia cambessedesii to me so I will go with the name. I suppose it is possible that it could be a hybrid since it was bought as a seedling but then it blooms so much earlier than other peonies I can’t see what it could hybridise with! Life is full of these little annoyances!