Passion for Peonies: Wide-Ranging and Fascinating

I’m a huge fan of this brand-new book – and not just because I wrote a chapter for it.

Although peonies are relatively simple flowers, easy to like and grow, Passion for Peonies offers readers a complex portrait of them that includes past and present, art and science, Asia, the Midwest, hybridizers, fragrance, conservation efforts, and more. A rich array of historic and modern illustrations adds to its considerable appeal.

At the heart of the book is the Nichols Arboretum Peony Garden of the University of Michigan which is both the country’s largest collection of historic peonies and a beloved local institution. A glorious two-page shot of the Garden in full bloom, overflowing with visitors, opens the book, and a short history of its nearly 100 years follows.

From there the book ranges widely. There are chapters on Midwestern breeders such as the ground-breaking Silvia Saunders, and Midwestern peony gardens old and new such as the vast, butterfly-shaped garden of Henry Ford’s wife Clara. There are excerpts from several historic works about peonies, a history of peonies in early American gardens by Monticello’s Peggy Cornett, and fascinating chapters about fragrant peonies, modern hybridizing, peonies in Asian art, and even investigations into the genomic diversity of garden peonies.

My chapter explores why historic flowers are worth saving and what’s being done today to preserve them. “Be sure to include information about Old House Gardens’ work,” editor Bob Grese told me, so I did.

Bob and his co-editor David Michener deserve a ton of credit for envisioning this book, writing several of the most interesting chapters, and bringing the whole thing to fruition. I don’t know how you guys did it, but bravo!

You can order the book here, and browse our heirloom peonies here (including newly added ‘Frances Willard’, ‘Philomele’, and – one of my all-time favorites – ‘Madame Ducel’).