With lots of love, piles of passion, decades of careful nourishment — and  lots of patience — Hazel and Joe Cook’s prized flower has been named the 2023  Peony of the Year by the Canadian Peony Society. 

With a shared passion for gardening, the retired couple, who have lived on  Fife’s Bay Road in Selwyn Township since 1980, began gardening decades ago — the  beginning of a journey that would eventually see the couple, now married for 50  years, recognized with the honour in January. 

After moving to their Selwyn Township property, the two greenthumbs began  gardening around their residence. Then, in 1994, the pair bought a plot of land  behind their home, which they soon turned into a full-fledged garden. 

They planted some peonies. Their passion for the seasonal flower took off in  2004, when friends in Guelph asked the couple if they’d split a peony  collection. The two ended up with 800 peony plants. 

The duo started their own business on the acreage they’d obtained: Blossom  Hill Nursery. 

Their daughter Amy helps out with the online aspect of the business. 

“(Joe and I) are both very involved. It started as a hobby, then it became  kind of an obsession and went on to become a business, Hazel reflected. 

The story of Hazel and Joe’s 2023 Peony of the Year began in 2008. Pat de  Villiers asked the pair to help her dig her mature, 12-year-old peony plant from  her property to share with her family. In return, they were given pieces of bare  root. 

Twelve years earlier, in 1996, Villiers had bought the plant’s seeds from the  late John Simkins, a well-respected giant in the gardening and seedling  community who made his mark selling distinct peony seedlings in Styrofoam  cups.

Simkins, a founding member of the Canadian Peony Society, was known to grow  seeds of “Roy Pehrson’s Best Yellow,” which would grow to be unique, bowl-shaped  peonies that took on an unusual Japanese-type flower form. 

Hazel and Joe immediately planted the root in their garden — and the rest is  history. Their divisions grew well and the couple were excited with what they  saw: Simkins’ unmistakable yellow, Japanese-type flower. 

The two took the blooms to the American Peony Society convention in 2010.  Several impressed top breeders and growers crowded around the plant, remarking  on the flower’s “uniquely wonderful characteristics,” Hazel recalled. 

The American Peony Society, established well over a century ago, is a staple  among greenthumbs around the world. While the society is separate from the  Canadian Peony Society, the two organizations have a friendly relationship and  share information with one another. 

In 2016, Hazel and Joe registered the peony through the American Peony  Society. 

That’s when the unique flower earned its fitting name: John’s Dream. 

“It was a suggestion from Roy Klehm, owner of Klehm’s Song Sparrow Farm and  Nursery in Wisconsin. He was a friend of (Simkin) for many years through their  involvement with the American Peony Society,” said Hazel. 

Hazel reflected on John’s Dream being acknowledged earlier this year. 

“It’s definitely nice to have that distinction because John’s Dream so  deserves to be recognized,” she said. 

Hazel and Joe are no strangers to being honoured for their gardening and  business work. Blossom Hill Nursery was recently named microbusiness of the year  locally. The two have also been dubbed Canadian  and American grand champions three times for their flowers. 

They were recognized in 2014 in the U.S. for their Illini Belle flower, a  dark red herbaceous peony, and in Canada, they were honoured for growing an  intersectional peony — a bloom Bartzella. 

“We find gardening can be challenging at times but there is always more to  learn and it is an excuse to spend time outdoors in nature,” said Hazel. 

By Brendan Burke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 09, 2023 at 20:14

This item reprinted with permission from   The Peterborough Examiner   Peterborough, Ontario
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