American Peony Society Convention 2010

Peony fields at Klehm's Song Sparrow, Janesville, WI
I was in peony heaven. Peony breeders, sellers and hobbyists had gathered for three days of immersion into all things peonies in Janesville, Wisconsin for the American Peony Society Convention.   For the breeders, the event offered a chance to show off their best creations, compare notes and admit to the humbling effects of nature on their growing fields. For peony growers, it was an opportunity to check out new acquisitions for their stable of offerings. For hobbyists like me (Or as I like to call myself: a peony groupie), it was a weekend condensed into fields and rooms full of color and fragrance.
      Even in the cold drizzle, the fields of Klehm’s Song Sparrow Farms were colorful beacons in the midst of farmland. Three busloads of attendees slogged through the damp and hunkered down beneath umbrellas to take in a closer look at the thousands of plants over dozens of acres of herbaceous peonies. It was a great way to see how they all performed out in the middle of nowhere, without stakes or protection from the wind and rain.
      Inside the Rotary Botanical Gardens’ visitor center, row upon row of tables were obscured by vases of peonies. From the deepest mahogany tree peony to the most elegant herbaceous hybrids and unnamed seedlings, each invited viewers to get a closer look.
Rotary Botanical Gardens Peony display
While the newest intersectionals made an appearance along with recent introductions of herbaceous varieties, I was inspired by the fact that peonies developed more than 50 years ago held their own in the competition for honors. Peony ‘Frances Mains’, introduced in 1955, won the coveted Court of Honor award.
      Harvey Buchite, APS President and owner of Hidden Springs Flower Farm offered a bevy of fragrant peonies. His recommendations formed a who’s who of old-fashioned peonies, including ‘Duchesse de Nemours’, ‘Festiva Maxima’, ‘Madame Calot’, all introduced about 100 years ago.
      I performed my own scent detection work in the display area and found ‘Cheddar Surprise’ from breeder Roy Klehm to have a wonderful peony fragrance.
      I came away from the convention with a kaleidoscope of color etched into my memory. But I also learned a lot of little-known facts about peonies. According to Buchite, the diameter of a peony flower can increase by 25 percent when cut and brought indoors in a vase. This is because the flower isn’t subjected to the added stress of wind. When cut and brought indoors, the flower can finally relax and expand to its maximum size.
Peony 'Ursa Minor'
Peony 'Frances Mains'
      The sheer number of registered peonies was driven home for me when I picked up a publication entitled Peonies 1997-2007, which listed every peony ever registered with the APS. Suffice it to say, there are hundreds to thousands, most of which I’d love to plant in my way-too-small garden. 

The APS Annual Convention 2012 will take place in Omaha, Nebraska May 31 to June 3

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