I have an embarrassment of peony riches at my home in the Hudson Valley and I am a peony junkie. I have always loved these late spring blooming plants for the showy blossoms which look, for all the world, like party dresses for fairies. I could imagine Tatiana slipping on a tight bodice and then stepping into a skirt of bubble gum pink, although Shakespeare would not have know about bubble gum, but we do. The skirt, like the peony, would have so many layers that it would arch away from the queen of the fairies’ waist, much the way the flower angles graceful from the stem offering itself to us.
I love the opulence of nature providing beauty for beauty’s sake. Let me have an interstitial moment here so I can acknowledge that I am well aware of the role that color and scent play in propagation and the health and wealth of the insect world, which in turn benefits us. That said, come on, the same come hither I am ready, red or pink can be met in some awful looking and rank smelling posies. And I acknowledge that they too do the job very well thank you.
But this is about the pursuit of beauty. I grow these plants all year for a show which lasts at best a month. Yes, I know that they do have lovely, waxy, dark foliage, but I am not tending them for that. Here in the Hudson Valley, zone 5ish for you garden geeks, these plants seem to thrive. My ancient neighbor Charlie lets me taking cuttings from his plants and he says all he does is mow over them in October and they seem happier every year. Wow is it any wonder Charlie is a bachelor.
I now have over 30 plants, which range in color from ice white to a deep pink veering toward red. Some are single blooms, which means they do not have the layers of Tatiana’s ball skirt, but do have acid yellow centers making them resemble fuzzy tennis balls surrounded by glossy maroon petals. Neither a color or texture combination I would have dreamed up, but once you see it waving on the hillside or cut in a vase gracing a table you can’t imagine anything else more perfect.
Accept perhaps the enormous Bowls of Cream. In my next life maybe I will be a flower namer, or a boat moniker maker, or racehorse breeder, who gets to name the foals as they slither out. I love these names. These peonies, these bowls of cream, are perfectly christened. They are round and cupped like bowls and have the heft and density of a white making you believe you have fallen into a bowl of cream. They have tree limb thick stems, all to the good because usually there are three to five blooms per stem. They have a creamy yellowy echo and do not possess a bluish tint and they would never be loved if they were called bowls of skim, or 2% on the stem. Think about it, they had me from CREAM.
But here is an interesting aside; the most beautiful peonies often do not have the most alluring sweet aroma. It is like people. You can’t be a neurosurgeon and the best dancer and have a raucous sense of humor and cook and have blemishless skin and . . . Everyone gets gifts. We all do. Thanks goodness. Not to digress but life’s only work is to find your gifts, appreciate them and put them to good use. And then do not bitch incessantly about the gifts you missed. So I have noted, for instance, my bowls of cream do not have the aroma, which, what I call my field peonies, exude endlessly. I found these peony plants dotted over my land. Stuck into hedges, choked by buckthorn or in abandoned apple orchards. They are a smallish blossom, with a crayon light pink color, multiple petals, no showy center, but oh my the aroma is an intoxication.
I wander through my peony patch now in full bloom and I appreciate the colors, sizes and scents of all of them. I know they are only visiting for another week or so. And I am filling my eyes, nostrils and home with everything they have to offer and trekking across the property with my May poem tucked into my dirty little paws, hoping to memorize it by the end of this weekend, the end of the month.