Heartland Peony Society

History of the Heartland Peony Society
by James W. Waddick

        It seems like there has been a lot of assumptions and little direct information about the Heartland Peony Society.  As 'founder' let me give you a brief summary of the factors that lead me to start the HPS.

        I have been interested in peony species and was an early member of SPIN (Species Peony International Network).  I suggested this acronym to founder Leo Fernig and was the first US member.

        I had been a member of the APS for a few years and not really happy with its member services;  I thought there was a better way for local information sharing.

        Kansas City is in the heart of peony country with Bigger's Nursery, Hollingsworth Nursery and Gilbert Wild all in a day's drive.

        I was also involved as board member and officer with various specialty garden groups in Kansas City and nationally. All these influenced me as I let out the word that we'd try to organize a group of peony lovers.

        On May 5, 1996, we all met at the Linda Hall Library, a private science library with a permanent collection of over 100 tree peonies. The curator of tree peonies, Scott Reiter, graciously arranged a tour of the plantings and arranged a meeting space inside the library. 

        The following charter members met on that date:(alphabetically)   Donna Aldridge, Bill Desmone, Nancy Greer, Alan & Lyn Holiday, Don & Lavon Hollingsworth, Dan & Irene Isbell, Tony Ryan, Joe and Claudia Schroer, Louanna Simmons, and Jim Waddick.  Other Charter Members include Betty Mordy, Norah Denney and Jim Murrain.

        We collected a start up treasury of $10 per household and had $130 to start.  I sold a few left over peonies from another garden club (out of the back of my car) and raised another, much-needed, $50. We were on our way.

        More advertising, meetings of this core and much risk-taking resulted in a fall meeting, public program, auction and public sale. Don Hollingsworth was lined up for our first program. Our first auction was strictly donated plants resulting from a letter writing campaign to potential donors all over the country. We ordered over 100 peonies wholesale. We went into the meeting hundreds of dollars in the hole unless we sold a lot of peonies and got a lot of new members.  After that first real public meeting we had over 60 members, a few thousand dollars in the bank and we were off and running.

        By Spring of 97 we rented a bus and our members toured G. Wild's Nursery in Sarcoxie MO. We came home with buckets of cut flowers, piles of orders and much member involvement and joy. That fall we risked even more and bought more peonies, cajoled more peony donations, and were able to afford Al Rogers as our speaker.  We gained a hundred MORE members !

        We have since made completely successful spring bus tours to peony gardens and growers, had wonderful auctions of incredibly rare and choice donated peonies and sold hundreds of plants to our public and members.We have also resold dozens of peony books, donated peony books to our local garden library, produced and sold beautifully designed T-shirts, mugs, tote bags and other merchandise for our members and public, sold hundreds of tree and herbaceous peonies, as well as donated some of the very best to two local public gardens.

        Now we have a steady 150 or so household memberships, we are a 501 (c) 3 IRS non-profit organization and registered similarly in the state of Missouri.  Our Past-Presidents include: Don Hollingsworth, James W. Waddick, Lyn Holiday, Claudia Schroer, and  Paul Crosby.  The current President is Leon Pesnell.  Our past tours have been to: Gilbert Wild Nursery (Sarcoxie, MO), Hollingsworth Nursery (Maryville, MO), Botanica (Wichita, KS), Helen Reynolds Nursery (El Dorado, KS), and Bigger's Nursery (Topeka, KS). Speakers for our fall events have included Don Hollingsworth (Hollingsworth Nursery), Al Rogers (Caprice Farm Nursery), Dr. Karen Gast (KS State Univ.), Ricki Creamer (Red Cedar Nursery), Scott Reiter (Linda Hall Library),  Jeff Jabco (Scott Aboretum), and John Elsley(Klehm's Song Sparrow Farm).

        As a result of Al Roger's visit to speak to our group and exposure to our wild enthusiasm, he returned to the Pacific Northwest as an acolyte. Shortly there after the Northwest Peony Society was formed.

       Our organization has grown in size and enthusiasm and continues to want more of the best and the newest. We have also felt a major need to continue member involvement and interaction. And as our enthusiasm and abilities grew, we realized we needed to expand. We had requests for membership from peony lovers all over the US and  from various foreign countries. We tried turning these down, but eventually added members from coast to coast. We had offers of articles for our newsletters, but tried to keep our newsletter just to local events and info on meetings and member events. Then we realized there was a wider need for accurate information on current  events and modern developments among peonies.

       All indications we had were that interest in growing peonies at all levels was increasing rapidly: cut flowers, hobby gardens, specialist garden etc. In fall of 1999 various board members suggested we take on a greater national role of education and information. As a result we have been accepting more memberships from all over the US; we established a very active and informative  web site; we established a new membership category that will allow members outside our local area to subscribe to a new quarterly color bulletin (A project that did not reach potential) and we continue all of our local activities with a Spring bus tour just about finalized and a Fall program of events under development.

        The Heartland Peony Society has become very active and very involved. It is the second largest peony organization in the US and, we believe, the most active.  We urge everyone to visit our web site and get involved with us to post accurate and modern information to our web site which we hope will be a free public reference for basic peony information.

        Join us in the fun.

        As a semi-disclaimer, these are my own recollections and opinions, not an official record of the HPS.

        If you have questions and wish to assist with our activities, please contact us.. 

James W. Waddick


        Postscipt 2004: Our web site pages on FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) has information on many basic peony culture needs and we are ready to reply to any specifics.  In 2004, HPS was able to support the publication of the most current revision of the wild peony species in cooperation with Timber Press as 'The Genus Paeonia' (Halda and Waddick). We continue to innovate and involve our members to promote peonies to the fullest. Look for more news each year.

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