January 2018 – Bill Wegman

A Passion for Peonies

While leafing through “one of those fancy catalogues from a mail order nursery” in the mid-80s, a heritage peony named ‘Doris Cooper’ caught Bill Wegman’s eye. Bill knew next to nothing about peonies, but knew he wanted it. So Doris was purchased, planted and nurtured. She became the centerpiece of Bill’s slowly expanding garden – a small collection of hand-me-down peonies.

When he retired from a career as a communications engineer in 1995, Bill got serious about peonies. “I was growing them, but really didn’t know very much about peonies,” he admits. On the Internet, Bill came across the newly formed Canadian Peony Society, which was planning an exhibition in 2001 at the Governor General’s in Ottawa.

By now, ‘Doris Cooper’ was a beauty – “at least in my eyes,” says Bill – so he entered her in the show. Bill was justifiably proud of his heritage peony – ‘Doris’ won best of the show. Bill now has two “bests of the show” to his credit, although he is quick to downplay the accomplishment.

The Canadian Peony Society’s exhibition brought Bill and Mary Pratte together, and Mary introduced Bill to the Friends of the Farm. “I thought I should learn more about peonies,” Bill explains, “so I joined the peony team. It was so interesting, the collection at the Farm is so diverse, and I learned so much.”

Bill admits to spending the bulk of his retirement on peonies – growing and tending his own, heading the Friends’ peony team, and looking after the Society’s seed distribution program (collecting, packaging and mailing out seed orders). He has also ventured into hybridizing. As he explains how to do it, it is clear that the painstaking process is well suited to the meticulous mind of a professional engineer.

Mary Ann Smythe, January 2018. Photo by Polly McColl.