Where to see peonies

 
 

The United Kingdom is justly renowned for its gardens, but only a few have good peony collections. The situation is improving, particularly as more people have discovered peonies.


Abbey Dore Court

The garden at Abbey Dore Court, located at the Southern end of the Golden Valley, is run by Charis Ward. It is a plant lovers’ garden stretching over 8 acres and includes a river walk, meadows and beautiful borders. This garden is filled with the most wonderful collection of species peonies such as Paeonia mlokosewitschii and hybrids, P. mascula, P. arietina, P. obovata var. alba and P. obovata var. wilmottiae, as well as the elusive ‘Jenny’ and a number of P. lactiflora and tree peonies. The garden is open daily from April to September. Tel. 01981 240419 (www.abbeydorecourt.co.uk).


Cambridge University Botanic Garden

The Botanic Garden at Cambridge University has a large collection of species peonies, which can be found in three main areas. Thee are extremely good specimens of Paeonia mascula and P. emodi on the limestone rock garden. The greatest number are planted in the herbaceous borders on the left hand side as you enter the main part of the garden. The labelling has been greatly improved recently, but a few remain unidentified. A nice specimen of P. cambessedessii can be found lurking behind the glasshouse range.


Docwra's Manor, Shepreth, Hertfordshire

Faith and John Raven were avid collectors of wild flowers, which they grew in their garden at Docwra's Manor. John Raven, a professional botanist, is sadly no longer with us, but his garden lives on. The majority of the peonies are species and include P. delavayi, P. ludlowii, P. mlokosewitschii and P. officinalis. The garden is reminiscent of the Mediterranean and has Acanthus mollis (Bear's Breeches), Eryngium giganteum (Miss Wilmott's Ghost) and Cynara cardunculus (Cardoon) added for dramatic effect.


Edinburgh Botanic Garden

Established in 1670, Edinburgh is one of the oldest Botanic Gardens in Britain. It has a superb collection of species peonies and is well worth a visit. The plants are grown in almost ideal conditions and flower approximately ten days after those at Kew. It can also lay claim to having what is probably the oldest tree peony in Britain and possibly the oldest in Europe. This plant originally grew in the gardens of a house in Arbroath, the former home of Alexander Duncan. Duncan has a special place in peony mythology as he was responsible for collecting the first tree peony to reach the Western World. The latter was planted at Kew Gardens in 1789 but was destroyed in 1847 to make way for a new building. The history of this tree peony only became apparent in recent years.


Hidcote Manor Garden, Gloucestershire

This famous and influential garden has some nice tree peonies, the hybrid peony 'Avant Garde' and until recently had a NCCPG National Plant Collection of peonies. The property belongs to the National Trust and is well maintained. There are several large tree peonies in the pillar garden and one of the paths is lined by P. officinalis.


Highdown House, West Sussex

This famous garden was created in the 1930's by Sir Frederick Stern and was the subject of his well known book 'A Chalk Garden'. The gardens were created from a disused chalk pit and boasts many rare trees. Stern wrote an extremely important monograph about peonies and several of the plants that he described still survive in the gardens. If the peonies were labelled the collection would be of international importance, but without them the gardens are of limited educational value. There are a large number of seedlings of P. delavayi and P. lutea, which are scattered around the lower part of the garden. Stern's widow left the gardens to Worthing Borough Council, who have allowed their former home to be turned into a public house. There are photographs of his family scattered around the walls, but it must be a sad shadow of its former self. Frederick Stern must be turning in his grave!


Hodnet Hall, Shropshire

The main attraction for peony lovers at Hodnet Hall is the circular peony border. This ring-shaped border includes hundreds of Chinese peonies, consisting mainly of 'Sarah Bernhardt', 'Lady Alexandra Duff', 'Bowl of Beauty' and 'Pink Dawn'.


Ivycroft Plants

Ivy Croft garden and nursery, near Leominster, are run by Sue and Roger Norman. The garden is filled with a wide range of plants including an interesting collection of species peonies; including Paeonia emodi, P. japonica, P. mlokosewitschii, P. obovata var. alba, P. tenuifolia and P. wittmanniana. There are also some hybrids. The garden is part of the National Gardens Scheme and is open to the public every Thursday from April to September, 9am to 4pm, and at other times by appointment.  www.ivycroftgarden.co.uk


Kelways Ltd., Somerset

Kelways Nursery is one of the most significant names in the history of peony cultivation. The company was started by James Kelway in the 1860's and reached it zenith in the early years of the 20th Century, when it was known as the 'Royal Nursery'. At that time thousands of people used to visit Langport in the summer to see the peonies flowering in 'Peony Valley'. The peonies were even used to make a 'Peony Valley' perfume, which was sold in 'Art Deco' style bottles.


Over the years the valley became infested with Mare's Tail (Equisetum) and in 1993 the peonies were dug up and moved to a new location. The valley has since been replanted and should start to reach maturity during the next few years. The aim is to establish a National Collection of P. lactiflora varieties.


Many of the peonies were bred by members of the Kelway family and include well known varieties such as 'Baroness Schroder', 'Lady Alexandra Duff' and 'Kelways Glorious'. There are many other varieties, which deserve to be better know, such as Kelway's Supreme. Kelways have a nice display garden and sell a wide range of tree peonies, they are well worth a visit. The best time to see the peonies in 'Peony Valley' is in early June.


Kiftsgate Court, Gloucestershire

Kiftsgate is most famous for its rambling rose, R. filipes 'Kiftsgate', which grows to a height of more than 50 feet through the branches of a Beech Tree. There are many other things to see however and it has a good collection of tree peonies. A small number of peonies are sold at the gardens and it is possible to buy 'authentic' divisions of the hybrid peony 'Avant Garde'.


Penshurst Place, Kent

The ancient house at Penshurst Place has often been at the centre of English history. The peony border is 120 metres long, so large in fact that the peonies at one end of the border flower a week later than those at the other! The majority of the peonies are varieties of P. lactiflora.


The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Kew has long had an extremely good collection of species peonies. Until recently the majority of these were grown in the 'Order Beds' by the Jodrell Laboratory, but there are numerous other species scattered around the Alpine Garden and beneath the trees. A new Peony Garden was opened in May 1999, to commemorate the late Michael Haworth-Booth, who was the author of a book about tree peonies.


The Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley, Surrey

Wisley has quite a few peonies, but many of them suffer from being in the shade. There is a nice specimen of Paeonia ‘Highdown’ (formerly known as ‘Rock’s Variety’) and numerous cultivars of Paeonia lactiflora. The RHS has held two peony trials in the past and many of the plants have ended up in the gardens.


Spetchley Park, Worcestershire

Spetchley Park has a large number of peonies scattered around the gardens. There are several large tree peonies, most of which seem to have originated from Kelways. One notable peony is P. obovata var. wilmottiae and there are several American hybrid peonies.

As interest grows in peonies more gardens are being planted with them. If you should know of any garden where there is a good collection of peonies, and there is public access, please contact us by e-mail.

 

We would be interested to hear from you if you own a large garden that is open to the public and has a good collection of peonies. If your garden is already listed and the description is inaccurate in any way, please contact the webmaster.


 


 

United Kingdom