With a smile on and praise to my long time dear wildflower loving friend, Donna Miller, owner of her Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom, Petals in the Pines, in Canterbury, New Hampshire. Donna has taken pictures of the peonies in her gorgeous gardens and from the heart, shared her story about warming up to the Peony flower over the years of sporting her green thumb. Enjoy her flower story then plan a visit to Donna's charming outdoor classroom this summer.
In the late 80's I spent a few years in college in Virginia. I had the good fortune of living in an old plantation house on a huge farm. The yard was fenced to keep the cattle out. The property had suffered several years of neglect and had fallen into disrepair. Fortunately the other four people I shared the house with, and I, were interested in sprucing up the yard. One was a landscaper who brought his expertise to the task. He was drawn to a huge peony plant that grew all by itself right smack in the middle of the yard. Once when we were doing yard work near the lone peony he expressed that it was one of his favorite flowers. I looked at the multiple blooms that were flopped over on the ground, for lack of staking, and couldn't disagree more. It was a "messy" plant and I didn't see beyond that. What I missed were the beautiful individual flower blooms that would have looked better if the plant received proper care and had been planted in the right place.
I then declared to my family that from that point forward I only wanted Peony plants for Mother's Day! They obliged, and Jim and the kids would pick out two new varieties every year. I've continued to increase my plantings for several years now, and the beautiful peony is my focal flower in all my bouquets for most of June.
As a gardener I often associate bloom time of certain plants with life events. The Peony ushers in the end of the school year, graduations, and my son's birthday. I've made multiple Peony bouquets that have been given to teachers on the last day of school. Just this week a Peony bouquet brought much joy to a woman who was celebrating her anniversary and recalled her bridal bouquet that was made of peonies.
Other flowers that bloom at the same time that go nicely with peonies are Golden Yarrow, Jacob's Ladder, Baptisia, Alliums, and French Sweet William. The combination of pastel colors is just delightful.
I am reminded of the words of the historical horticulturist, John Forti, giving sound advice on how to enjoy our peonies a little longer. "Florist manuals from the late 19th & early 20th century suggested cutting long stemmed peony while they were still tight in the bud and showing color across the top. They would wrap the stems and store them dry in an icebox or later under refrigeration for a month or more. When ready to force them, flower arrangers would simply make a fresh cut to the base of the stems, submerge them in water and give them several days to open. As we rekindle local economies and remember how to bring value added specialty products to market, practices like this can go a long way for gardeners/farmers to make additional funds, extend the season, or offer us a chance as backyard gardeners to amaze our friends with peonies long after the season is over."