The hunt is on for a lost peony, the Lady Byng. This special peony was said to be very pretty, and it definitely was colourful, bright crimson carmine with a distinctive cushion of buff and deep red. It was also expensive: in 1926, it cost an astronomical $35.
This is what it looked like:
The peony was developed by Harry Norton, a Canadian peony breeder from Ayer’s Cliff, Québec, who bred many peonies in the early years of the 1900s. One of these was the ‘Lady Byng’, named in honour of the wife of the Governor General of Canada, Lord Byng.
The nursery gardens at Harry Norton’s house in Ayer’s Cliff are long gone, as are the peonies. But peonies can live for decades in the same spot. And we know how gardeners enjoy sharing their plants. Most likely this peony is still growing quite happily in some garden in and around Quebec’s Eastern Townships, or even much farther afield.
Here is how ‘Lady Byng’ was described in a garden catalogue.
Many people in many places are involved in the search for this lost cultivar. The Canadian Peony Society would like to find it as they are especially interested in keeping track of all Canadian-bred peonies.
Rideau Hall, the Governor-General’s residence in Ottawa, would love to have a piece for their Lady Byng Rock Garden.
The Reford Gardens in Métis, Quebec, would like to re-establish it in their gardens. It was one of Mrs Reford’s favourite peonies; she noted Mr Norton’s visit to the gardens in her garden journal in 1926, and recorded the blooming of the cultivar in subsequent years.
The Byng home in England would like to check it against some plants in their garden so they could identify theirs positively.
Can you help?
If you think that the peony pictured above looks like a peony in your garden, or if you know the Norton family or anything at all about the peony collection at Mr Norton’s house, please get in touch with Mary Pratte at [email protected]