The blooming of the exquisite Paeonia ‘Souvenir de Maxime Cornu’ is a moment of the most wonderful beauty. It is a moment to appreciate the work of paeonia breeders of the past and to anticipate the main flush of the paeonia season.
When Paeonia delavayi and Paeonia delavayi var lutea were introduced from Yunnan, in China, they allowed the development of a new age range of tree paeonias, inter-sectional crosses between them and P. x suffruticosa. One of these Lutea hybrids, ‘Souvenir de Maxime Cornu’, was made by Louis Henry in Paris in 1907 and remains now, more than a century later, one of the most beautiful and one of the most treasured of paeonias.
The Rivière family, famous plant breeders in France and specialists in paeonias since the mid 1800s, describe ‘Souvenir de Maxime Cornu’ in their catalogue, thus: “Lutea hybrid. L. Henry, 1907. Double peony, Very dense and bulky. Brimstone yellow. Carmine pink at the edge of the petals. Luxuriant green foliage. One of the first Lutea hybrids but still very popular because unrivalled!”
The Royal Horticultural Society describes it less poetically “Souvenir de Maxime Cornu’ is an upright, branching, deciduous shrub to 2m tall with divided green leaves. Large, fragrant, double flowers borne from late spring into early summer have ruffled, dusky yellow to pale orange petals edged with pink.”
How poorly words describe this beauty!
Louis Henry named his wonderful paeonia for Marie Maxime Cornu, a French botanist, who held the chair of horticulture at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris and was named president of the Botanic Society of France in 1875.
On a more local note, the flowering of Paeonia ‘Souvenir de Maxime Cornu’ tells us that the main Paeonia borders in the Walled Garden at Mount Congreve will shortly put on their annual display, generally in the first week of June, perhaps the greatest display of paeonias in Ireland.