Bag End celebrates planting of rare peony

On Oct. 11, Jay King and his wife, Anne, hosted a luncheon at “Bag End” in Cazenovia in celebration of the planting of a rare “Julia Grant” (1939) Saunders peony. King purchased the plant in an American Peony Society (APS) auction this past August.

Saunders peonies are the result of the hybridization efforts of Arthur Percy Saunders (1869-1953), the “Father of the Modern Peony.” Saunders served as dean and professor of chemistry at Hamilton College in Clinton, NY, in the decades prior to World War II. According to the APS, he produced both herbaceous peonies - varieties that die back to ground level for the winter - and tree peonies - those with woody above-ground stems - during that time by systematically hybridizing as many species combinations as possible. Through the production of thousands of seedlings, Saunders was able to select many “superior and unique cultivars,” which became known internationally and remain in high demand today.

The Hamilton College website explains that Saunders first crossed the herbaceous Paeonia lactiflora from China with other herbaceous species to produce new hybrids. He later developed hybrid tree peonies by crossing the wild yellow tree peony, Paeonia lutea, with other tree peony species.

According to Lois Girton, who donated the herbaceous Julia Grant peony to the APS auction, Saunders’ peonies are significant because he was the first to make systematic crosses between a large number of species peonies, the wild plants that served as the first generation parents of modern-day hybrids, and are now rare in nature.

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