Friday, June 17, 2011

IT IS ALL ABOUT THE PEONIES.... Exits and Entrances

The entrance. The blossoms are ahead but this is my favorite time in the peony garden. True, it is about the possibilities of bloom and color that await here, but more it about the beautiful and simple form the peony bush takes on in early June. The young blossoms rolled tight atop their sturdy stems are playful looking with skirts of deep green leaves.

James and I had a neighbor in Maine that we were fond of. This neighbor, Don,
grew only three plants, peonies, lilacs and wisteria, with wondrous results. During June it was not unusual to go out our back door and find a bouquet of peonies filling a bucket!
It was with Don in mind that we planted our peony walk. I too wanted to be able to fill buckets with armfuls of peonies!

Peonies have a long history. Greek mythology gives us the botanical name Paeonia. The story goes that Paeon, a student of the revered god of medicine Asclepius, surpassed his teacher in skill.
The old story. Well, the jealous Asclepius attempted to do away with Paeon but Zeus stepped in turning Paeon into a flower to save him. The flower was the peony. So the story goes.

During the T'ang Dynasty (618-906) peonies commanded such high prices that they were found in the gardens of the Imperial Palace and placed under Imperial protection. The peony was used in Traditional Chinese medicine, believed to have healing properties. (This of course reminds us of the Paeon/ Asclepius myth.) The beauty of this flower captured the attention of Chinese artists and was used an a image in paintings, woodblocks and porcelains.

In 19th century Europe the peony became popularized in gardens and painted by artists such as Renoir and Fantin-Latour, and Pissaro.

And certainly not to be overlooked, here in the 21st Century in the studio right next to mine. James (Aponovich) paints flowers from our garden as they come into bloom. Peonies of course, are being cut and brought into his studio now. There will be more about this later on his blog

As days pass, those round buds unfurl and the peonies begin to show their colors until they are fully open revealing themselves and their intricate petals and centers. Then I wonder, possibly this is my favorite part of their show. The fragrant ones are beguiling.

With the lavender tuning from a blue haze to full flower the garden completes itself for this moment. The two make a lovely couple. For a few days they will share this garden, but soon the robust flowering of the peonies will come to an end . An end
for this season leaving the lavender to take the spotlight.

When James & I began collecting peonies we searched out places that featured peonies.
We first looked for heirloom varieties, then added others just because we liked them!
We also sought to have varieties that were early, mid-season and late to extend the season.

We bought several from Countryman Peony Farm in Northfield, VT, where they taught us to buy peonies with "good habit", meaning strong in stem and good form. Here at Countryman we were introduced to 'intersectional' peonies and now have a few of those in our garden. The intersectional peony was developed in the Tokyo in the 1940's by Toi chi Itoh. These colorful plants are a cross betwee a tree peony P.x. suffruticosa with a herbaceous peony.

Uncanoonuc Perennials in Goffstown, NH also provides a nice variety of peonies.

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