A Brief History of the Peonies

William Saunders, the first Director of the CEF, brought the first peonies to the Farm in the 1890s and began testing.

Perhaps the most prolific breeder of both herbaceous and tree peonies of all times was William Saunders' son A.P. Saunders, a founding member of the American Peony Society.

His work was particularly important because he brought together as many wild peonies as possible and made crosses between them, which had not been tried much to that point. The result was 17,000 seedlings, from which he selected only the best (a very tiny portion of the plants he hybridized).

William Saunders

Peonies at the Farm, 1896
Click to enlarge
His groundbreaking and very methodical work brought into the peony world a new range of colours and much earlier bloom times than were available in the more common garden varieties of the day.

A. P. Saunders was born in London Ontario and moved to Hamilton College in Clinton, New York to teach. Although this is where he did most of his peony breeding, he spent summers at the Farm and would work here with his father and his famous brother Charles (the one who developed Marquis wheat) on plant breeding techniques.

Saunders brothers Click to enlarge
In 1998, the complete collection of all peonies at the Farm was down to around 220 plants. All were lifted, cleaned and divided by Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada in 2000.

Major restoration work on the peony beds in the Ornamental Gardens has been completed. Some gaps remain to be filled and duplicates removed.