“The sheer loveliness of the blooms of the June-flowering (peonies) is so extraordinary that it seems impossible to find words for the innumerable colour values, the texture of petal and the purity and symmetry of line and outline of many of the large, handsome blooms.” So said James Kelway in his 1954 book Garden Peonies, now updated and reissued.
One each side of the Atlantic, there’s been one family which pioneered the development of new peonies and did more than any other to popularize these indispensible perennials. In North America it’s been the Klehm family, Charles Klehm helped found the American Peony Society in 1903 and the family’s Song Sparrow Nursery remains the leading North American peony specialist.
In Britain it’s always been Kelways, James Kelway established his nursery in 1851 and it continues today, now under the guidance of Dave Root, who is re-energizing the Kelways peony tradition. His latest step is to update and republish James Kelway’s invaluable book.
Dave Root has retained as much as possible of the original text, and has very wisely interfered with the James Kelway’s elegant prose as little as possible. But he’s brought the pests and disease section up to date and recommends the best of recent introductions to replace lost varieties. He’s also added recommendations and advice on those (Intersectional hybrids) which are crosses between herbaceous peonies and tree peonies and which did not even exist when James first published his book.
Well illustrated with contemporary color pictures, this is an ideal book for gardeners looking for recommendations of the best varieties and advice on how to grow them well. This is not a book for those of looking for a vast amount of botanical detail, it’s a book for gardeners and the advice and recommendations of over sixty years ago are as valid as ever.
Garden Peonies by James Kelway and Dave Root is published by Picts Hill Publishing.