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In Praise Of Peonies

Mary Jo Shannon Print Mug
Mary Jo Shannon

Few cut flowers surpass peonies for sheer beauty, and in some varieties, scent. Their voluminous blossoms packed with silken petals make exquisite arrangements. In Asia, where they originated, the peony is a traditional floral symbol for China and is used symbolically in Chinese art.

My start of peonies came from my mother-in-law who had grown them for over thirty years. She gave me two varieties – one is white with a tinge of pink on the edges of the petals and has a sweet scent that permeates the house where they are displayed, and the other, a deep pink, has no scent.  I planted the tubers along the eastern side of our house, and when they needed dividing, I moved the dark pink ones to the western side. For forty years they have bloomed faithfully each May – except for one spring when my son John discovered the large round buds made perfect ammunition for his sling shot.

Every year I intend to stake them to help the stems support the heavy blossoms. Every year I wait too long and they bend low, especially when they endure a heavy rain. But they really require little attention. This year they were unusually abundant and provided many large bouquets for neighbors and shut-ins.

Through the years I have given tubers to many friends, but my daughter Kathy declined my offer. She doesn’t like the black ants they attract. Ants do not harm the flowers, but eat the nectar that forms on the outside of the buds. To ensure that the ants do not hitch a ride into your home, plunge the flower heads into a bucket of water for a few minutes.

Peonies do not gradually wilt revealing they are past their prime – they drop all of their petals at once. Once when my granddaughter and I returned home from a trip to the store and discovered our peony vase held bare stems. The table was covered with a carpet of delicate pink petals.

“Look, Nana!” she exclaimed. “Your peonies have de-petalized!”

– Mary Jo Shannon

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