2023 Canadian Peony Society National Show – June 9-11, Oshawa, Ontario



Blaine Marchand

Blaine MarchandBlaine Marchand

The Power of Many

It is such a clear memory. Jamie and I had bought the Second-Empire schoolhouse three years earlier, in 1998. This property in Osceola Ontario came with almost two acres of land on which we immediately started building gardens. It was early Saturday morning at the beginning of June 2001 and we were doing the rounds of garage sales, as we were wont to do way back then. CBC Ottawa’s flagship weekend show, In Town and Out, was playing. The host introduced a woman called Mary Pratte who was there to promote a peony show at Rideau Hall, June 16th and 17th. As we listened, her enthusiasm for peonies really captured our attention. Jamie turned and said – “Now there is a plant we could collect as showpieces throughout our gardens.” And so, the bug was caught.

Mary also mentioned a show being held in association with the American Peony Society at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, June 8th-10th, to which decided on the spot to go. In our minds, however, we could not justify being away two weekends in a row, so we missed the Rideau Hall show.

In the 20-plus years we have been members of the CPS, what has impressed me, beyond the beauty of peonies that continue to grace our property – many heritage varieties acquired through the annual CPS root sale – are the people whom we have met either by corresponding or at the annual shows. It has been a fascinating and rewarding two decades of getting to know the Society’s members. Among these people are: Reiner Jakubowski, with his thorough and archival knowledge of peonies; Brian Porter, always willing to share information on cultivars and on Canadian peonies; and, of course, Mary Pratte, an inspiration, not only for her beautiful garden but for the breadth of her acumen on different varieties and how to identify them.

But it is not only past presidents who have inspired me. There are Michael and Judy Denny, a power couple in the peony world who welcomed Jamie and me each July when we were in their neighbourhood; Tom Harris and Dennis Gebhardt, show stalwarts whose green vintage suitcase brought a collection of peony buds to the Winnipeg show; Joe and Hazel Cook and their wonderful Blossom Hill Nursery and their generous contribution of peonies, along with David Maltby, which helped anchor the peony gardens at Whistling Gardens; Mary Ann Robinson and June Brett, who along with the Cooks, purchased a significant portion of the historic Gilbert collection of peonies and then spent an entire week digging and dividing roots in what became referred to as ‘The Big Dig’; and Lucie Pepin and Pierre Turenne, whose passion for and leadership of peonies is first-rate.

In many ways, the CPS is a virtual society as it encompasses peony aficionados from sea-to-sea. Prior to the pandemic-Zoom era, which changed things so profoundly, I had been extremely lucky to have had opportunities to meet members in person at our annual general meetings and shows – in Regina, Doug Bradford and his fellow members of the Prairies Peony Society (I have such wonderful memories of the graceful purple blooms of P. veitchii in Gladys Sykes’ garden); in Calgary, Laurie Goetting, Linda Braun and Andrew Choi (whose rockii seedlings now grace both the Osceola and Ottawa gardens); in Oshawa, Ken Brown, Nick Visser and Mary Ellen Simerson; in Quebec, Rock Giguère, François Léo Tremblay, Patricia Gallant and Alexander Reford; in Winnipeg, Arlette Plessis, Ted Sobkowich and Eloise Rodger; and, in Castlegar, Darlene Kalawsky, Holly Pender-Love and Marvin and Adriana Work.

Our gardens certainly benefitted from the passion for peonies that led enthusiasts to create peony nurseries – Lindsay D’Aoust, Manon Capano, Serge Farfard, Ken Clare, Bob Yaremko, Lana Taylor-Mills and Marian Bohlken, to name a few. Or, some whose seedlings were gifted or acquired – Joe Harvey, Marilyn Light, Bill Wegman and Reiner Jakubowski. Being President for two years allowed me to work with many committed individuals who were on the executive – Marvin Belfour, Margaret Sequiera, Alice Macaulay, Eva Mitravitz, Laurie Goetting, Lex Landon, Alice Macaulay, Alice Homer, Wendy Daley, Deborah Merriam, Martinus Mooijekind and André Dorion. Also thanks to Brenda Maguire, who spearheaded the root sale for a number of years.

In, in my own neighbourhood, at the Central Experimental Farm, where I volunteer in the peony gardens every Thursday morning, May to October, I hand pick weeds in the peony gardens alongside Bill Wegman (who has taught me so much), Lynne Zeitouni and Nick Van Voort as well as Jean-Pascal Gratton and his team at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. And, blooms we nurtured at the CEF took pride of place and won prizes at the annual shows.
Of course, there are many other members who contributed much but who, I must admit, my senior grey matter has forgotten. To them, as well, my thanks.

There is an expression – the power of many. In my view, this is what has made the CPS strong over the past 25 years. It is people who built it and who continue to work and keep it strong. Here’s to the next 25 years.


John Simpkins

John Simkins
May 1919-September 2011

John was a amazing gardener and founded the Canadian Peony Society twenty-five years ago. He was elected our first CPS president in June 1998 and continued to serve 3-one year consecutive terms as President. John was a peony pioneer in all things to do with peonies in Canada.

He was a true visionary and imagined many things happening with the forming of Canadian Peony Society twenty five years ago including expanding across Canada with National Shows, local shows, community involvement, education, open gardens, root sales and seed sales. Many of his ideas have been put into practice today as the Canadian Peony Society has evolved over the years. He was adamant about gardeners continuing to learn and expanding their knowledge so he wanted peony books put into all libraries and encouraged members to write to their local libraries to ask that they have more peony books!

At our first National Peony Show, June 1998, John was thrilled to win and be in the Court of Honour with the Best Lutea Peony “Argosy”.

Parentage: lute x Moutan. Habit of the plant very vigorous. Foliage intermediate between the two parents. In our climate this hybrid tree peony, like Lutea, is apt to kill back to the ground in winter; but it shoots up vigorously in spring and blooms on the new wood. I think it is somewhat hardier than Lutea, and somewhat less so than most of the Chinese tree peonies. The flowers are fairly large, semi-double, and are carried upright on stout stems. The petals are of a very bright sulphur yellow, stained deep purple over a small area of the base. Pollen sterile, and the plant has never set seed. First Class Certificate, Massachusetts Horticultural Society, June 1928; also Garden Achievement Medal for Best New Peony, American Peony Society’s Show, 1928.

As part of promoting peonies across Canada, he asked CPS members to donate their extra blooms to churches or to brides for their weddings. John also was very passionate about species peonies and he referred to them as the building blocks for peony breeders. He generously gave seeds to the CPS from his own garden as well as took the time to hand harvest seeds from the Royal Botanical Garden.

John was a hybridizer, organizer, flower judge, garden speaker and world renown author. He was a member of the Garden Writers of America and a past president of the American Peony Society. John wrote many articles for horticultural organizations including our first newsletter article. At the time the newsletter was called “ Peony C to C”. He also wrote a regular gardening column in a local Oakville paper for 45 years! John served on the board of the Royal Botanical Gardens as well as held many positions on Oakville and Ontario horticultural associations. Oakville Horticultural Society gave the CPS $500.00 for the startup costs for our Society in 1998 and we are certainly grateful they did!

John Simkins Stamp of ApprovalJohn Simkins Postage Stamps

John and Vi SimkinsJohn and Vi Simkins

John and his beloved wife Vi, celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in 2006. They were both born in England. John moved here as a baby and Vi after the war. Their Oakville home that backed onto Morrison creek contained over 700 perennials, 75 of them peonies. John decided to specialize and propagate tree peonies. He sold seedlings grown in little plastic cups for $1.00 in order to encourage people growing peonies at many local garden events. He took peony plants everywhere from Alaska to New Zealand to test their hardiness and growth in a variety of climates. He also sent send all over the world to various botanical gardens in China, Japan and England. These were known as the “Simkins’ Strain”.

CPS Inauguration MeetingCPS Inauguration Meeting. From left - Libby Monkman, John Simkins,
Chris Craham of RBG, Rena Preston, Helen Ascroft, Ed Preston

John remains an inspiration to all of us a we carry on his legacy through the CPS. His passion for peonies was evident throughout his life and we hope we can continue to achieve the examples he has set for all of us at the Canadian Peony Society.

John Simkins


Joe and Hazel Cook of Blossom Hill Nursery

Amy, Joe and Hazel of Blossom Hill Nursery

Joe and Hazel Cook with their daughter Amy are well known for their family business, Blossom Hill Nursery located near Peterborough. It was established in 1994, specializing in the hybridization and propagation of British Delphinium elatum. A second passion resulted in an extensive peony collection of over 650 varieties including species, tree, herbaceous and intersectional peonies. The Cooks are hybridizing and propagating the peonies, including grafting 100 varieties of tree peonies.

Blossom Hill delphiniums have won the only two Bronze Medals from The Delphinium Society UK presented in Canada. Hazel’s peony entries have won many awards including Grand Champion for the American Peony Society and the Canadian Peony Society Grand Championship three times.

Blossom Hill Nursery has been recognized with other rewards including the Best Micro-business, Business Excellence Award from the Peterborough Chamber of Commerce and the Peterborough County Recognition Award for Business Leadership/Entrepreneurial Innovation.

Joe and Hazel are long term members of The Delphinium Society UK and were recently honoured with an appointment as Overseas Vice-Presidents. Hazel has served as a director and corresponding secretary of the American Peony Society.

In 2013, one plant of each of the 600 varieties of the Cook’s peony collection was donated to Whistling Gardens in Norfolk County. This ensures that the collection will remain together for the enjoyment of the public for future generations.

The Cooks’ interest in horticulture and nature led to the third passion in 2009 of bee keeping in an environment which supports pollinators. They have expanded to include queen rearing by grafting and now manage over 100 hives.

To celebrate Blossom Hill’s 25th year in business in 2019, they planted a 12 acre native wildflower meadow/tallgrass prairie and windbreaks creating an ideal location for their apiary. Blossom Hill property also includes perennial display gardens as well as 6000 peonies and trial beds in the field for over 1000 delphiniums.


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Canadian Peony Society
4338 Line 26
St. Pauls, ON N0K 1V0