I love books. A lot-lot. I also love research. Whenever I find a subject interesting (which is often), my tendency is to read everything I can find on the topic. I will read book after book on beekeeping/eucalypts/the history of weaving/pharmacological patents/permaculture/insert topic here, until I feel I have lots of perspectives and plenty of well-reasoned ideas on the subject. I'm pretty sure it's a deeply annoying habit for my spouse and anyone else within earshot, but it's what I do and I've accepted that it is unlikely to change at this point (old dog, new tricks, and all that!).
Gardening is one of those subjects on which I will read absolutely any material I can hunt down. I love gorgeous, photographic celebrations of gardens, but I also love to read old gardening journals and memoirs, and technical treatises on a single aspect of the garden. The book I am reviewing today is both of those things - part botanical porn, part technical manual on all things peonies.
Peonies: beautiful varieties for home and garden by Jane Eastoe and Georgianna Lane is simply STUNNING. Regardless of whether you read a single word of this book, it is worthy of a spot on the bookshelf (or, better yet, splayed out on a coffee table) for the photography alone.
I don't deny that peonies are, perhaps, a little overdone these days. If you have ever used social media, you've been pummelled with images of them for the past few years. Elle magazine even called them "the new avocado" in 2016! I admitted that my interest in peonies stems exactly from that source when I wrote about them here the year prior. So, while they may be about ready to take a fall with the fashionable set (although I note that avocados are still on errrrrybody's insta-toast), they are still high on my love list.
This book succinctly covers peony anatomy and types, going in to just the right amount of depth for an avid grower (who isn't a botanist). Selection, growing and care are also covered in an exceptionally clear and concise chapter. I learned a number of new tips from this section - like keeping light pink varieties in a more shady position to preserve their colour for longer, and sacrificing quantity of blooms for quality the same way. Apparently in Japan people will go to great lengths to shade prize peonies from midday sun... I don't blame them (I've recently been known to put up umbrellas to shade hydrangeas).
Whilst the bulk of this book is filled with individual varietal profiles, accompanied by the centrefold glamour shots of each one, I think my favourite part of the book is the chapter on the history of peonies. From origins in China through to the medicinal uses of peonies by 8th century Japanese Buddhist monks, the escapades of Western plant hunters, and the passions of the French, it is a wonderful story and so well written. Normally those chapters are the ones that get skipped over, but I truly don't think they will be in here.
For me, that is what most recommends Peonies: beautiful varieties for home and garden - it is so well written, but moreover it is EDITED brilliantly. The content is easy and enjoyable to read, covering just the right amount of detail without being overwhelming. It is approachable, enjoyable and utterly lovely.