Now that Peony Season is nearly spent, let me sing their praises.
Before I do, let me first confess that I was not always a fan. While I always thought the blooms were magnificent, I dismissed them as dumpy. I was not meticulous at staking them (and I'm still not), so the image of peonies in my mind was a circle of green surrounded by flowers bending low to the ground, sometimes even lost in the mud. Their fatal flaw stemmed from stems too weak to hold up those magnificent, oversized, and (obviously) over-bred heads. I sneered at them because the flowering period was so brief, observing that you did well if you got two weeks of good bloom from a plant.
But somewhere along the way my mind changed. I don't know whether it was walking home and seeing the herbaceous peonies blooming in concert with the first flush of rose bloom and thinking that Thomas Kinkaid (the painter) had attacked my house and garden with color.
It may have been when I discovered how generous peonies are. After just a couple of years in the ground they produced enough flower power to give away huge vases of flowers. (At times I've given away plastic trash buckets full!) And the arrangements always looked good, no matter which varieties of peonies happened find their way into a vase. I loved how these arrangements overwhelmed the senses. Although most peonies smell "green" to me in the garden, I discovered that in a vase they fill the room with scents that vary from musk to citrus.
It may have been the discovery that peonies are generally carefree. The only real threat I've ever had to ward off in 30 years of gardening was a bout with botrytis fungus during last year's wet spring. Most years the worst thing that ever befalls them is a harmless dusting of mildew in August. Compared with roses, peonies are a breeze.
It may also have been the discovery that one can extend the peony season to about two months by choosing varieties of tree and herbaceous peonies. As a general rule of thumb woodland peonies bloom the earliest (though I don't have any), tree peonies bloom next and herbaceous peonies last. My garden has micro-climates and I’ve learned that the same peony planted in a protected, sunny warm place it will bloom up to ten days earlier than the same peony planted in a more shady, cool part of the garden.
As peonies gradually won me over, I noticed that they come in a great variety of bloom styles. Some are simple, single, anemone forms, while others are balls of petals. Others have dark flares that surround the eye. Still others are blessed with flecks and streaks of color. Some have pompoms of white or yellow that contrast with the surrounding petals. And more!
We live in an exciting time as plant breeders are coming out with intersectional crosses between herbaceous (which die back to the ground) and tree peonies (which develop stems and a bush - that can grow up to four feet tall, depending on the variety). Some of the yellow varieties they have come up with are jaw dropping beautiful.
But now the season is almost over and we must say goodbye to our friends the peonies. Though not quite! I recently learned that you can cut the blooms when the buds are still tight and store them for several months in the refrigerator. You can pull them out and enjoy their blooms even longer. I have not yet tried this, but with any luck I’ll be able to celebrate my daughter’s wedding with vases of beautiful peonies.