I cut the very last of my peonies this week. I have a little bit of a peony problem.
I convinced Paul to dig up a plant that hasn’t bloomed in two years and replace it with a new bi-colored variety that won’t bloom till next year. He relocated the reject across the yard; maybe he’s hoping the shock to the system will wake it up. I have no idea if that last bit made sense. I’m not much of a gardener.
We have an enormous garden at our house, and by we I mean Paul and the boys. My deal with the garden is that I will consume things that come out of it. Sometimes I even cook them for everyone else. The garden is a handy answer to desperate hunger a bare five minutes before supper will be on the table — “Go have some mulberries!” — and an occasional surprise. Kohlrabi is a a root vegetable that makes me think of a cross between cauliflower and cabbage, has the texture of a crisp apple, and tastes about six times better than you’re imagining from that description. I don’t recall ever even tasting it before Paul grew some a few years ago. To encourage the production of such delights, all three boys agree that I should stay in the house of a summer evenings, safely out of the way.
So when I got a yen a few years ago for peonies, I said I wanted some for Mother’s Day. But not cut flowers. I wanted my very own peonies. We went to the garden center and picked out a few plants, and the little boys took care of installation under Paul’s careful instruction. I heard at least one, “Do NOT dump that!” before I decided that ignorance was bliss and disappeared indoors again. We repeated the exercise the following year. I enjoyed the sparse blooms that appeared and googled “when do peonies really start blooming” obsessively. Google told me to be patient.
I was rewarded the next spring with a riot of light pink blossoms and fascination became obsession.
I took a few stems of the light pink Sarah Bernhardt blooms to work this past week. They opened like a dream, so lovely that one client asked if they were real, until the fragrance reached her. Because they were just a foot from my eyes, they were on my mind frequently, and I started to wonder why I love them so much. I’ve always liked flowers, but why the peony obsession?
I love that they are both delicate and blowsy.
I love that they start as an uptight, compacted bud and explode out to take up all the space they deserve.
I love that you cut them back hard in the fall, and it only encourages them.
I even love that, left to themselves, they sag under the weight of their own beauty.
I love that they are, as we say of some people, a lot. They are big and loud and they send their fragrance all over. They come with issues; if you don’t do something about the ants before you bring them inside, you’ll be sorry. When they decide to fall apart, they do it with style; everything’s fine until it’s not, and all the petals go at once.
They’re a lot, peonies. And, just as with people, we love them for all of it.