Tuesday, June 05, 2007

No Cut Peonies This Year - Or Next!

One of our three peonies is in bloom. There is one flower on it - white with red marks along the petal edges. The other two show no indication of flowering. That's actually better than the way it has been for the past few years with these shrubby plants that have lived at our house for considerably more years than the thirty that we have been here.

I cannot say that I didn't notice them when we first moved in - after all I did mow around rather than over them. Nonetheless I was totally nonplussed when their pink and white flowers appeared apparently out of nowhere on an early June weekend in 1977 - having at that time no precise recollection of ever consciously choosing not to take their lives. There is apparently a form of perception where you can "see" something enough to avoid colliding with it but, not knowing what the thing actually is or will become, you can still be totally startled by its existence every time that you come upon it.

At that time there were three bushes located along the northern border of our front yard. The oak trees back then were thirty years shorter and that part of our landscape received almost a full day's worth of sunshine. We even had a small bed of miniature roses about twenty yards from the peonies - also prior residents.

Over the years, as the shade increased, the rose/peony output decreased. I took out the rose-bed first. Then a few years ago I transplanted one of the peonies to a sunnier spot and dug up the other two. Or so I thought. Two years later, two individual peony stalks arose in the former sites of their parents. I've left them there - but until this year none of the three current plants had produced any flowers at all.

In their hay-day however, every June, all three of the original bushes would spring to life with ten to fifteen blossoms each. Then, within twenty-four hours, it would rain - heavily - for several days - guaranteed.

Up close the wet, dense flowers remind me of peacock or swan bodies - layers of feathers over hints of a bony skeleton. The ball-shaped buds always looked too heavy for the long stems on which they were each displayed. They were not - until they multiplied their weight by totally absorbing every drop of precipitation that fell in their vicinity. Then they laid upon our sodden grass like a flock of long-legged prostrate pink and white birds - looking like the end result of a bird hunt like that depicted by George Catlin in his 1857 painting "Shooting Flamingoes" (a lasting memory of our visits to Rochester, New York during our son's college days, and the Peonies' prime years.)

I used to work with a woman who also grew peonies and who decided one June to save her flowers from their waterlogged fate by cutting them and bringing them into work for all of her co-workers to enjoy. There were several vases of them arranged nicely on the desks that made up her Help Desk seating area.

Then someone noticed a large black ant. And another. Soon they were appearing faster than Flamingos were falling in the aforementioned painting. Since we were on the seventh floor of a downtown urban office building, and since no insect of any form had ever been spotted previously within this hermetically sealed edifice this became a source of minor alarm. The ants however, being the orderly animals that they are, were marching in columns that, when traced backwards, led directly to the several vases of freshly cut flowers.

The Peonies were ingloriously removed from the workplace and several days later the ants were also gone. There may have been some nighttime insecticide committed in the process, but I'm not certain.

When I got home I checked out our plants to see if the office infestation was just an anomaly. It wasn't.

Which is why even though our one Peony lies prone, in solitary repose, in the pouring rain, on the wet grass, like the final act of a balletic swan - there was no way in hell that it and its squirm-inducing black residents were coming into this house.

1 comment:

Sherry said...

Jim, I'm a first time peony grower. Planted 6 last year in memory of Greg's mom who grew them. The ants, at first, had me a bit leery. The beauty of the flowers and their heavenly scent was just too tempting. To rid the blooms of their ants I run them under water and tap the blooms against the side of the sink to get the little buggers to crawl out. The two actions, repeated a couple of times, did no harm to the blooms and did get rid of the ants.