Sunday, June 29, 2008

Peony Time

One of my favorite flowers is the peony. Their extravagant blossoms set among lush green foliage and heady fragrance make them a flower garden star.

Peonies were plentiful in the gardens of my youth. Many homes in the area would have a row of them alongside the garage or house. We had some next to the garage as well as a row of them serving as a "fence" between our yard and the neighbor's. Our neighbor was a skilled peony-grower and she would share the root cuttings with my mom.

Spring was peony time. First, the leafy bush would grow out of the stubs of last year's plant. (In the fall, the bush gets cut down to the ground, in preparation for winter). Next, the round buds, approximately an inch or so in diameter, would appear. The buds secrete some sort of nectar that attracts ants, so you always saw ants on the buds. That was pretty gross when you are a kid. When you cut the flowers to bring in the house, you had to make sure all the ants were gone. In mid-June the blossoms opened.

We had magenta plants like in this picture, as well as white, red and a few different shades of pink. One of my favorites was a pink one that had fewer petals and an open center that showed a cluster of yellow stamens. My mom always made nice arrangements that filled the house with a sweet fragrance.

A few years ago was the first time I had seen cut peonies for sale. (This was in California). I was pretty excited to see them available, but I about fainted when I saw they were going for something like 5 bucks a stem. That's usurious! There was NO WAY I could bring myself to pay $15 for a bunch of peonies! I remember calling my mom about it and she gave me her usual answer: "Well then I guess you need to move back here, so you can have all the peonies (or whatever it was that I would be complaining about) you want free".
Same thing with lilacs. Why the heck are they so darn expensive in California? In my old neighborhood, you could just walk down the alley and snag a few off someone's bush. They wouldn't even know.

I got these at Von's for only $5.99--a fair price. I have to say though, they aren't as fragrant as some, but no ants.


Wandering Chopsticks said...

Peonies are notoriously finicky. They also need to overwinter in cold weather. That's why they don't grow so well in California. That's why I'm happy even if I only get one bloom from a plant each year. :P

I had to order mine online because they're not often sold in stores here. I saw one peony plant for sale at Armstrong for $30!!!

MaryRuth said...

30$!?!?!? that's crazy! I'll bring you one from Wisconsin next time I go =) You will just have to keep it in the fridge during the winter.
As I researched a little for this post, I saw the part about being finicky. You couldn't tell from the ones my folks have...they are always strong and robust and are from plants that have been there about 50 years!
How big does your plant get?

Wandering Chopsticks said...

My plant doesn't get very big at all. Since I ordered it online, they sent it to me as a cutting. So it has maybe half a dozen leaves? That's it. I remember my friend's peony in Chicago was huge with soooo many blooms.

john said...

It's Pops, again putting in his two bits ! ( That's an old south side-ism !) Mrs. Byrne let me dig a few roots from her Peony plant, the one you wrote about. It was taken from her mothers plant, so I'm guessing the original root is more like 75 - 80 yrs. or more. It is a Chinese "single" bloom that has a yellow pestal stem and pink laced petals which may total about 8-10. I've never seen any others like it. The one in your photo and around our area are all" Double" blooms which adds to their beauty. Is there some way that I can ship these babies, $$$$$.

MaryRuth said...

Thanks Pops for the "back story". Wow, I didn't know Mrs. Byrne got it from her mom. That IS old!
I wish I could have you ship some, but like Wandering Chopsticks says, peonies have to have some cold weather time. We have to buy specific types that don't need as much cold time.