I had a peony once.¬†¬† A pretty yellow cupped lutea as it was then called, now it‚Äôs 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.
- Mine was planted too close to a tree
- The soil was not as well prepared as it should have been
- 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‚Äôs voice is clear and he comes across as a gentle soul whose prose shines with the love and knowledge of his favourite plants.
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, ‚Äúas hardy as the dock‚ÄĚ. ¬†¬†(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‚Äôt 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‚Äôs 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