It’s the most wonderful time of the year. No, I’m not talking about the holidays, I’m talking about that other magical time of the year when the peonies start to bloom. I anxiously await this event each year, prepared to pull up a chair for the mesmerizing show. I eagerly watch for when they first pop out of the ground in early spring and as they grow at a dizzying rate, reaching for the sky. I get downright giddy when I observe buds starting to form, and I check each day on their progress, trying to guess when they will open. When opening day finally arrives, the buds unfurl their petals to reveal the beautiful blooms within, and it is simply magical. Shades of pink, white, yellow, and coral grace my garden for a few short days, and I am enchanted. While the foliage of the peony isn’t flashy and tends to blend into the background for most of the year, the blooms demand attention. They certainly have gained my adoration, becoming one of my favorite flowers.
The love obsession started back in 2004. We had just moved into our new house, and after living in several apartments with no garden space, I was beyond excited to finally be able to get my hands in the soil. On one of many trips to the home improvement store, I placed a lonely plant that had caught my eye into the cart. There was no tag to give it an identity, no picture of what the flowers would look like, just the generic term “Peony” slapped on the side of the pot with a price. What can I say? I’m a sucker for unwanted plants that need a home.
That first year it thrived, surprising me with a single, beautiful flower, a double pink bloom. It took my breath away. After doing research based on the flower it produces, my best guess is that my peony is the beautiful cultivar ‘Sarah Bernhardt,’ although I may never know with 100 percent certainty. In the sixteen years since acquiring the lonely plant, it has never disappointed, being ever-dependable and steadfast. Last year it boasted a staggering 50 buds that all bloomed in show-stopping fashion over a week or two! When the flowers faded, it blended back into the landscape, once again allowing others to shine.
I confess that the plant is no longer lonely. Others have caught my eye at the garden center, wooing me to come closer and begging me to take them home. Two Itoh peonies, the incredibly beautiful lemon yellow ‘Bartzella,’ and equally tantalizing ‘Coral Sunset’ have since joined the peony bed. Gracing the garden for a few days each year with their exquisite, show-stopping blooms. An additional two will join the ranks in the peony garden this fall, the creamy-white and yellow ‘Primevere’ and the fun and flirty red and white ‘Candy Stripe.’ What can I say? They wooed me from the online garden shop! I can’t seem to get enough of these versatile and beautiful plants that look equally beautiful on the stems in the garden and in the many vases I position around the house.
When I do bring a fresh bouquet into our home, I am often amused when I spot a rogue ant or two that has hitched a ride on one of the blooms, hidden from view among the many petals like an adventurous traveler braving the trip to see new worlds. Ever wonder why ants seem to love peonies? It turns out that they have a symbiotic relationship. The peonies provide the ants with nectar to eat while the ants protect the flowers from floral-feeding insects. In this way, I like to think of peonies as social flowers, enjoying the company of friends, inviting them over for a picnic, and a cordial conversation on a lazy afternoon. How wonderful to have that type of relationship, one that equally benefits them both. They are helping each other, lending a hand when one is in need. They have a lot to teach us.
Just like the ants, I too must have a symbiotic relationship with peonies. They convince me to provide them with a spot in my garden that meets their needs, and in return, they hold a special place in my heart. It is a mutually beneficial relationship.
Inevitably, this wonderful time of the year comes to an end. Spring rains typically bring about the demise of the blooms, weighing them down, causing their drooping heads to look like they are crying the tears of a fleeting life. I contemplate the thought that perhaps this is what makes peonies so special. The short-lived blooms remind us to stop and see the beauty in our lives and to enjoy every moment before it passes. It’s as if they are shouting, “Carpe Diem!” “Seize the Day!” to all that stop and listen. I’m listening, and I will anxiously await the moment when this most wonderful time of the year comes around again.