Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Consider the Peony

Glancing out of my kitchen window and into the garden beds that surround the brick patio, I see the pink, fuchia and white mop heads of enormous peony (Paeonia) flowers and buds bowing down to the ground under the weight of their own "frilliness" and the onslaught of raindrops. It was a good week of peony watching last week with the rain holding off until yesterday so the peonies have remained somewhat sturdy thanks to their strong stems.  The sunny May weather has produced a bevy of blooms now almost to their peak in my gardens and their sweetly scented appearance, as always, has been a gift from mother nature. Their rich and colorful history make them such a wonderful and imaginative addition to the garden landscape.

So, I'm not complaining about the rain drenching the peonies because we really haven't had enough rain this spring.  The weathermen have said that we haven't had a full inch of rain/precipitation to come in one day since the first blizzard of this previous winter which was back in early December.  Hard to believe, I know, but the snow/precipitation that we did have came in several days and since the heavy snows of  December and January, the wetness factor has been fairly scarce in our area.  It's a good thing that peonies, once established, are hard to discourage from growing in the garden and their graceful beauty seems to compliment whatever they are grown next to.  Even after their late spring to early summer bloom period is long over, their dark green leaves will turn slightly purple in full sun and stay full and thrive through the long hot summer giving texture and a wonderful backdrop for other plants in the landscape.  During the fall, peony foliage comes alive again, tinged in golden yellow.

Aside from the traditional herbaceous perennial peony, there are also the woody tree peonies that bloom a couple of weeks earlier in the spring. In my garden, their blooms don't seem to last as long--only for a day or two--and they require at least part shade, even through the summer, for the plant to survive through the hottest months.  Yet, their blooms are every bit as elegant and expressive as their traditional cousins.  Long gone from the garden borders here at Blooming Hill, the picture above is one of those tree peony blossoms from April for a memory in May.

However, for now, I'll just enjoy the vivaciousess of the peonies blooming right now and hope the rain will continue to fall fairly softly as to not pummel these vibrant and spirited flowers.  In anticipation of these rainy days, I cut a few bouquets to bring into the house and their sweet "tangyness" fills the air in the dining room, kitchen and living room reminding me that the sun will shine again soon and the peonies will rise to their fullest potential before their bloom time is over for the season.  Along with their heady aroma, the peonies also boast a few ants crawling through their petaled crevices. Attracted by the flowers' sweet scent and, as bothersome as they are inside your house, particularly in the kitchen and especially on the dining room table, ants and peonies are in an ongoing co-dependent relationship so, grin and bear it.  As much as I don't like having ants in my house, they are a small price to pay for the beauty of a peony bouquet.

Did you know that peonies have been around for at least 2000 years.  Native to China, Asia, Southern Europe and even Western North America, they were named by the Greeks after one of their gods, Paeon (physician to the rest of the gods) because of the plant's medicinal qualities.  Peonies have long been regarded as useful in relieving pain from toothaches, headaches, seizures and even chiildbirth.  In China, peonies were cultivated in the gardens of the Chinese emperors through the ages because of their extravagant beauty and delicate fragrance and the peony is still considered China's national flower. 


Since ancient times, peonies have been the symbol of wealth, luck and happiness.  They also represent elegance and poise, something always welcome when your having a sort of "bad hair day" like the peonies are having today, due to rain...kind of like grace under pressure.  With their lush, full and rounded blooms, peonies embody romance and prosperity and are often thought of, in gardening lore, to be an omen for a long and happy marriage and good fortune.  Peonies are the traditional gift to give for a 12th wedding anniversary.

The peony plant will last a lifetime, if left undisturbed after planting.  Legend has it that uprooting the plant will bring extremes of bad luck.  So, if you are superstitious, make sure you like where you are going to set your new plant in the garden and be happy with it there. In earlier times, peonies were traditionally planted along the walk to the front door of a house in order to ward off evil spirits. Looking at the beauty and versatility they bring to my garden beds, it's hard not to believe that peonies do not possess some magical power of bringing only good fortune to the garden.  Beauty and practicality aside, the peony truly is a symbol for spirit and determination with the ability to adapt and thrive in all types of weather and conditions.  No wonder it has so many meanings to so many people, particularly gardeners, all over the world.  So take a moment and consider the peony.  See the beauty and all of the possibilities it brings with it to your garden and enjoy the rain today!

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