New Peony Cultivar Registered

In 2008 one of my peony seedlings captured my imagination in a cycling sort of way, and in fall of 2009 I initiated the process of officially registering it. The registration is now official, having been published in the American Peony Society Bulletin, March 2010; No. 353.

The full name is a mouthful: Paeonia x steveniana "Contador's Triple Crown"

But we can call it Peony "Contador's Triple Crown" for short!

About the plant: This was the single "off" plant from a consistently uniform batch of Paeonia steveniana from seed purported to have been wild-collected in the Caucasus Mountains of the Republic of Georgia (country, not american state); so I suspect it is a hybrid. (description of the species P steveniana)

What is unique about it is the soft gold rather than pale yellow colour of petals, and the rose-coloured rim of the petals and sepals. Note that I'm calling the rim "rose", not red or pink... there's a reason for that! In all other discernable respects it is identical to the rest of the seed lot except for being slower growing.

( Not available for sale at this point. )

About the name: Some of you will know that of late I've gone a bit nuts about the bike, although 20 years on and off ships and a 13-year retirement from the thing didn't do much for my form or fitness. Anyways, after dusting the bike off several years back for a bit of local commuting which hurt a lot!, the old love affair re-kindled despite living close to the heart of hill-country; and each subsequent year has seen me spend yet more of my time on the bike. It shouldn't be much of a surprise then that the name for my first registered peony cultivar combines a couple of my top passions.

The Triple Crown of Cycling is awarded to a cyclist who wins all 3 of the Grand Tours (the 3-week bike races): Tour de France, Giro d'Italia (Italy), and Vuelta a Espagne (Spain). Not all in the same year: these are gruelling competitions and there are few enough bike riders who can even ride all 3 in one summer let alone win one; so it is an accomplishment achieved over a period of a few years or an entire career. To date only 5 cyclists have won this distinction, Contador being the most recent and also earning it at the youngest age (25) and over the shortest duration of time (14 months). (more... Wikipedia)

The leading rider on any day of a cycling Tour wears a distinctive jersey, and he who wins the Tour overall (ie leads after the last day on the road) is of course the winner of that jersey. Leader's jersey colours vary by Tour; the best known is the yellow jersey of the Tour de France, represented by the very yellow anthers of the flower. The leader's jersey of the Giro d'Italia is rose (pink, if one insists), and that of the Vuelta a Espagne is gold; these colours are represented by the petal colouration. And yes, a certain amount of artistic imagination is required! But know that the flower suggested its own name to me.

This plant first flowered at about the time that Contador was winning the 2008 Giro; he had previously won the 2007 Tour, so I knew there was something related to yellow and rose going on with this flower. In the fall of 2008 he caught up to what the plant knew all along and won the Vuelta, and with it the Triple Crown. So I then knew what I would have to name the plant, assuming permission.

I could also go out on a limb here and say that the red of the stigmas and carpel tops represents another Vuelta victory to come later, since the organizers of that race have decided to change the colour of its leader's jersey to red starting in 2010. In which case I might as well point out that the many yellow anthers signifies a number of Tour victories to come (although not 1-for-1!!)

In 2009 when I was finally ready to start the formal registration process, I contacted the Contador retinue for permission to name the plant after him, permission which was graciously given. And here we are!

About Alberto Contador Valasco: Contador sprang onto the world cycling stage when he won the 2007 Tour de France at the age of 24. Of course he was already well known to many European fans of the sport, especially the Spanish. Since then he has gone on from strength to strength and despite turmoil created by circumstances has won all three of the subsequent Grand Tours he started, and a number of one-week tours as well. He was ranked first in 2009 in the UCI (cycling's international governing body) Pro-Tour standings. So it should be no surprise that he is generally considered the top Grand Tour cyclist in the world and the favourite for the 2010 Tour de France.

He vaulted to my attention during tv coverage of that 2007 Tour, when I saw him leave for dead the top cyclists of the race, on a steep section of mountain ascent; it was a "holy cow, look at that!!" moment. And then continued with aggressive attacks on other mountain stages. For me it was secondary that he ended up in the yellow jersey, it was the uphill attacks that captured my imagination, and also the staunch defense of his lead in the final time trial of that Tour against the expectations of the experts. At the time, I had just managed to come to grips with the worst of the Rawdon Hills, and Contador's climbing became inspirational to my own unspectacular uphill efforts then and since-- a major irony, to be sure. He has also had a degree of adversity and turmoil prying at his career, which I feel he has dealt with in a laudatory manner. But for me it's mostly about being inspired by the uphill accelerations.

I am proud to have grown and identified this peony (although I had nothing to do with the breeding: that was all down to some Georgian bee, I suppose) and am grateful and proud to have been allowed to name it after an inspiring and great cycle-racing champion, thereby commemorating him and his accomplishment, and introducing his name to the world's gardeners. And to Alberto Contador, I wish you an untarnished and successful career in this great sport and will continue to follow your endeavors with great interest-- and thanks for the great viewing moments.

-Leo Smit, Mt Uniacke, NS ... March 2010


Further details on How I came to name the plant

Druing my contacts with Contador's press officer in the early stages of this project, I was asked how I came to decide upon the name. My reply was more detailed than what I wrote above on this page, so I've included it here for those that are interested:

A good question, how did I decide to do this! In a way, it is perhaps a bit like a racer making a surprise attack in a bike race: the decision is spontaneous, based on all the complicated purceptions his mind is processing from the start and even before the start. I will try to keep my answer as short as I can, but you will discover that I am not very good at making a long story short.

In the end, it was a number of low-probability coincidences coming together! and of recognizing a possibility and then trying to make that possibility into a reality. The decision was spontaneous, but acting on it was very slow.

There was never a plan by me to create a peony for Alberto. There are growers who devote their life to trying to develop new peonies (and all sorts of other plants of course) with a different look from all those that have been bred before, but this takes a great deal of patience and time and understanding of plant genetics, and I have only the bare minimum of each of those qualities. ... For me it is enough just to let the bees decide where to spread the pollen they collect from any plant, and I am always happy with the resulting plants although usually none are very special; I have thought about registering names for two other peonies earlier on but never followed up on those intents. In the case of "Contador's Triple Crown" not even my bees were involved, as this plant grew from a seed (one of about 50 seeds of the species Paeonia steveniana) which I bought from a British botanist, who had recieved it from someone who said it had been collected from plants growing wild in the mountains of the Caucasus in the Republic of Georgia. Usually in that case the plants are very uniform and true to the species, but somehow there was this one unique seed in the packet I recieved although they all looked the same. So the plant itself is an accident of nature, probably fertilized by a stray grain of pollen coming somehow from a different valley where a different species of peony grows, or maybe a genetic mutation caused by who knows what! However, even though an accident of nature, I believe it is still very special in terms of colouration, form, and parentage.

The second factor in this story is that I had only recently revived my interest in the bike after years of not riding it and even more years of very casual riding. And then by accident I discovered that a cable tv channel here was televising the Tour de France, so I started watching that. I live in a hilly area of Nova Scotia and was having great difficulty with the hills as I was in terrible shape physically, avoiding the steeper hills, which limited the routes I could ride. So my imagination was totally captured watching Alberto attack up the key mountains in the 2007 Tour, and that inspired me to make friends of the hills at a time in my life when I was having motivational problems with everything.

Third, the stroke of fate which kept Alberto out of the 2008 Tour and set the stage for his Giro win also made me hunt the internet for video of as many of his races as I could find (I could not stand to have to wait 2 years to see that sort of thing again!), which inspired me even more, especially the Giro.

Fourth, this unique peony opened its first flower ever close to the day of Alberto's Giro podium (photographed on 2 June 2008 but might have been open on 1 June), although I had seen the colours in the bud for a few days before that. At the time I immediately thought of the pink edging to the yellowish flower as being representative of the Giro putting a finishing touch to Alberto's Tour as represented by the yellowish base colour of the petals, and started thinking in terms of a name linking the plant to Alberto but I wasn't quite sure how. During the 2008 Vuelta I started thinking of the flower colour in terms of soft gold rather than a nearly yellow, and allowed the pollen-carrying anthers in the center of the flower to come to represent the Tour win. Well, it does take a bit of artistic imagination! It wasn't until after his Vuelta win that I first heard of the Triple Crown of cycling, and then I found out all about how unique an accomplishment it was, and suddenly the name was born in my mind one day in late September 2008. (Then it only took me a year to get the nerve to approach Alberto with the proposal!)

I admit that without the involvement of personal inspiration I probably wouldn't have thought about connecting the plant to anything or anyone from cycling. It is for me a very unusual and unexplainable involvement, because I have not been the type of person who becomes inspired by others in this way, and I have no heros or idols. So this too is a strangely unexplained coincidence.

My objective in naming it has always been to honour not only the the person and the accomplishment but also to honour it because of the personal inspiration I have taken from Alberto's climbing. It is a chance to combine my two major passions of cycling and plants, and secondarily to broaden the horizons of cycling fans and peony fans alike by this cross-cultural name.


So, that is my long story. A little bit curiously strange, and definitely unusual. It is very ironic that someone who goes up hills on a bike as slowly as I do attributes inspiration to someone as dynamic as Alberto; all I can say is that while creeping up my hills I visualize the videos of his mountain attacks in my mind and somehow the hill top seems to come sooner for me. However, this is not about me.


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