Two and a half years ago I acquired a couple of peonies through a members-only sale of my local chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society (NARGS). You may not realize this, but most rock gardeners get interested in alpine plants after years of gardening experience. They are all plant geeks and expert (or at least, better than average) at starting plants from seed, because the best alpine plants aren’t offered by the local garden center and NARGS has an awesome seed exchange. So even if you aren’t a rock gardener (and I’m not), you will find great plants at their plant sales.

So these peonies weren’t run-of-the-mill peonies. The member donating them to the plant sale was also a volunteer at Cornell Botanic Gardens (formerly called Cornell Plantations) and was on hand when they were digging up their entire peony collection and moving it to a different location. As you might imagine, there were pieces left over, and whether they were expressly offered to the volunteers, or the staff looked the other way when the compost pile was picked over, I don’t know.

All I know for certain is that at the August 2014 members-only sale, ‘White Innocence’ was offered and I was willing to pay the price (much lower than retail) and got my name on the list before they were all spoken for. When it came time for digging later in the fall, I was also offered a second peony of uncertain identity, which I gladly accepted. This is the first year they are blooming.

White Innocence peony
‘White Innocence’ was bred by A.P. Saunders, who lived about an hour away from where I live. It is tall for a peony, attaining 4 feet and even taller. The flowers are pure white.

As lovely as ‘White Innocence’ is, the second peony enchanted me even more.

Early Daybreak peony
‘Early Daybreak’, ‘Early Sunrise’, ‘Mermaid’, and ‘Early Dawn’ are all names suggested by the donor of this peony.

‘Early…