Garden Peonies

Author: James Kelway and Dave Root

Pictures: Dave Root and Kelways Plants Ltd.

Review: Tiffany Daneff

We think

I had a peony once.   A pretty yellow cupped lutea as it was then called, now it’s a Ludlowii.  It produced one beautiful flower (twice) and I loved its glaucous leaves.  Though I kept it seven years it never grew higher than a foot.

I now know why thanks to poring over this revised edition of the 1952 classic by nurseryman and enthusiast James Kelway, a descendant of the founder of Kelways nursery in Somerset.

  1. Mine was planted too close to a tree
  2. The soil was not as well prepared as it should have been
  3. Because of points 1 and 2 I tried moving it.  They hate being moved.

Kelway is in safe hands.  Dave Root is the current head of  the nursery and his touch, thankfully, and entirely correctly, is light.  This matters because Kelway’s voice is clear and he comes across as a gentle soul whose prose shines with the love and knowledge of his favourite plants.

We love

This is a useful book both for innocents and enthusiasts and the good news is that peonies, if chosen well, are kind to new growers.  They are says Kelway, “as hardy as the dock”.   (Think on that you florists who charge a fortune for a single stem.)  They can cope with pretty much whatever nature throws at them.  Deer, rabbits, harsh winters, snow and frost.  (But watch out for late spring frosts that might damage emerging buds.)  Better still they don’t need staking or pruning.

I like the fact that JK assumes no previous experience in his reader consequently he tells you exactly what you need to know.  How to plant, where to plant.  He has very modern sensibilities: he recommends planting scarlet peonies in meadow grass and P. officinalis in rough grass (just keep a collar of ground clear around the base.)

Once teased the reader is then offered a list of Kelway’s favourite peonies plus some new ones not known to or mentioned by James and now added in by Dave Root.  How can one resist?


I would have liked a photo for every peony in the book.

Picture of James Kelway courtesy Clodagh Barker