How to Start a Local Peony Club
by J. W. Waddick

1. Starting a Core Group: Testing the Waters.

Before jumping into the waters of a totally new club (or expanding the existing basics) ask yourself a few basic questions: Are there enough gardeners in your city or state or region interested in peonies? Do peonies even grow there? Are there other successful garden groups around? And most important who do you know personally who “JUST LOVES PEONIES”?

If you responded positively to all of these questions, call those peony loving friends and ask them to bring a friend and arrange to talk over the possibilities VERY informally.  We met at a local science library that has a tree peony display garden. A dozen of us talked about the pros and cons. You could have a meeting in the living room of a gardener or a quiet coffee shop or the public library. A dozen people is probably enough to know who is really interested and willing to get involved.

Here’s some basics:
Name: We chose a generic name, not too geographic or specific to discourage people from farther reaches to come to our meetings. We felt that the “Kansas City Peony Club” might offend gardeners from Topeka, KS or St. Louis, MO. Not too vague either. Think beyond your city. 

Officers:  We went traditional and minimal: President, VP, Treasurer and Secretary. All officers were chosen then and there at the very first gathering. We changed later with officers elected from existing board members. 

Goal: Although we all like and grow peonies, we wanted the group to be more than just a collection. We wanted to see a greater representation of peonies in our area; we wanted to educate people about peonies – all sorts of peonies. We wanted to support peonies and keep up to date. In short we wanted to do something FOR peonies. 

Treasury: Every club needs a treasury to do the simplest things. We knew from day one that we wanted a plant sale. One of the advantages of a club was to order plants in quantity and wholesale. Each ‘Household” donated $10 to start us off. A few peony plants were sold from the trunk of my car. These were donated as leftovers from an earlier plant sale of a more general club that included some peonies.  We started our first public meeting with less than $200 in the bank.

Meetings: We knew there were two major events in the peony world: bloom season and planting season. We decided to keep to the KISS principle and Keep It Simple Stupid! Almost everyone already belonged to at least one other garden club and everyone seemed to have garden chores and club tours and meetings in May, but we swallowed hard as this is the main peony bloom season. The fall season was less busy and was pinpointed early as “the main event”. Planning meetings for officers, board and volunteers are kept to a minimum.

Events: As we talked about this fall “event’ we realized we all had some wish list prospects and needs- 1) a regular sit down business meeting; 2) a public program with a prominent peony expert talking and showing slides of pretty peonies; 3) a public sale of herbaceous and tree peonies emphasizing new cvs not available locally. Eventually we added two other member events- A rare peony auction and a members only sale. At this time we only had a dozen members then, but we were optimistic. 

We knew we had to grow, not just to increase our funds to pay for all these dreams, but to provide the educational and inspirational impetus to encourage peony growing. We had to contact a lot of new potential members. 

1. Starting a Core Group: Testing the Waters
2. Advertising: Finding a Big Fish.
3. Growth: 10 – 100 - 1,000.
4. Gardeners vs. Growers – THEM and US.
5. Goals: The Light at the End of the Tunnel.
6. Feedback: Success and failures