My Grandmothers Peonies

Flowers have always held different meanings. It is said the flowers have their very own language. Individual types of flowers mean different things to each of us. Flowers have always inspired poets and artists. A single flower can take us back to a special place or time. Some happy, some sad. For me, my grandmothers peonies do it every time.

When my grandmother moved to her apartment later in life, the only perennials that came with her were her precious pink peonies. She planted them in a line in the back of her building. I’m not sure how many years she had been maintaining her favorite plants but I do know that she moved them to several different homes. She would wash her dishes in a wash basin and then send me out with the ‘grey water’ to water the thirsty peonies. This was supposedly the secret to huge blooms. We have several of her still life paintings featuring her pink peonies in a treasured vase.
Peonies put on quite a show!

As the years have gone by, those same peonies have been moved to more homes. My sister and mother both have some in their gardens. I think I need to dig up a piece for my garden to make it complete.
Pink is one of the many colors.

What Is It About Flowers?

For me it can be peonies or columbine or field flowers. For you it could be daisies, roses or Lily-of-the-Valley. The thing is that it could be any plant for anyone. Something that sparks a childhood memory or the thought of a person or an event. For Erin Benzakein, Washington state flower farmer, it’s sweet peas. Sweet peas brought her right back to her own grandmothers garden and the times she spent there. That first summer, word got around about her fabulous bouquets of sweet peas and someone placed an order. She nervously delivered the flowers only to find the recipient plunging her face into the fragrant bouquet and she started to cry. Why? Because they brought her back to her childhood days in her grandmothers garden. This experience helped Erin realize that there was a place for her in her area as a flower farmer. Flowers mean a lot to people. Adapted from Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden by Erin Benzakein.
The delicate folds of a peony blossom.

Peony Care 

Peonies are a long lived perennial, capable of lasting for generations. Herbaceous peonies require very little care and once established will not need division for some 8-10 years. Obtain bare roots by mail in the fall or get them from a generous friend. Plant them in a spot that offers full sun. Provide adequate drainage and plenty of organic matter. Roots will do best planted just below the soil, about 2″ for Northern growers. Space plants at least 3 feet apart. Peonies benefit from staking to keep heavy blooms off of the ground. After peonies bloom, dead-heading keeps the plant tidy. Any flowers left on the plant will form interesting seed pods so it’s up to you. Foliage continues to add structure to the garden and the leaves of some cultivars turn fiery red in autumn.
Ever photogenic.

Divide mature plants in fall with a garden fork. Cut if necessary with a sharp knife. Each new clump should at least have three eyes. Plant in vacant spots in your garden, pass some on to friends or start a peony bed. It’s best to refrain from picking flowers while the plant is getting established.

Peonies As Cut Flowers 

Peonies make some of the most magnificent flower arrangements! Bold and colorful. Scented and grand! How can you make the most of your peonies?
Irresistible bouquets!

Harvest flowers in the bud stage. Not when they first put out buds but when the flower petals start to soften. Growers call this the ‘marshmallow’ stage. Immediately plunge stems into clean water to refresh them. Pick off any ants that you find. It is said that peonies have nectar naturally occurring on the buds that ants are attracted to and the ants then aid the flower in opening. Remove the excess leaves and arrange as desired. Peonies can be placed in small arrangements or used in large, over-the-top displays.
In the bud stage.

If you would like to use your peonies for a special occasion, the stems with buds can be stored in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks. Farmers with proper floral storage can hold them for up to three months. Simply remove leaves, wrap in a plastic bag and paper towels. Lay flat in the refrigerator for best storage. Check on them occasionally. When you are ready to use them, re-cut the stems and place in warm water. Floral preservative can also be used. Buds will soon begin to open. They will be ready for your event within 24 hours. For more cut flower information, read Erin’s book above or try The Flower Farmer by Lynn Byczynski.
Making bouquets.

Peonies hold a special spot in my heart. Especially my grandmothers pink peonies. I’m sure that you have your own plant or flower that takes you back down memory lane. My husband seems to have started collecting rhubarb plants from various relatives. Please share what you love in a comment below, I’d love to hear from you! Also, check out the archives for other helpful gardening articles. Thanks for dropping by!


A Gallery of Spring Wildflowers

Spring has been slow this year. I usually refrain from complaining too much about the weather but I have to say that it’s hard to ease into late spring when the heat is on in the house. When every other night your husband says he needs to build a fire to take the edge off! A few weeks ago, it barely got out of the forties on some days. Our Maine landscape is finally a lush green color everywhere you look! On a recent walk with my son I found that my neighborhood is full of spring wildflowers. Would you like to see a few?

Although I love designing flower gardens and growing a yearly vegetable garden, there’s something about the flowers that appear every spring. As if spring is not really here until we’ve seen our favorites. Like these flowers above, called Bluets or Quaker Ladies. Probably the first to appear in May. Within a ten minute walk from my house I found such diversity that I couldn’t stop trying to capture what I saw. Many of these spring wildflowers go by several different names. I will be using common and scientific names throughout this post. A few of our wildflowers have been introduced from abroad years ago and have naturalized here.
Euphorbia growing along the road.

Introduced from Europe in the 1800’s, Cypress Spurge or euphorbia cyparissias, is not in a traditional flower form. Each yellow umbrel is made up of many clusters of petal-like bracts. This vibrant, low growing plant has been cultivated into countless varieties over the decades. As a cultivated perennial, it can make a huge show in a home garden.
My little protected area of Lady’s Slippers.

Since our land was cleared years ago, the Lady’s Slipper orchid was only spotted on occasion. Now, with parts of the forest going untouched, our small patch has grown to be a tiny grove of flowers. Each plant grows two leaves and only one stem with a flower.
A rare patch of white flowers.

Last year, we had a rare appearance of two white Lady’s Slippers. I don’t think we will have any this spring. These stunning jewels of the forest get their name from the flower resembling a woman’s shoe.
Lady’s Slippers on the side of the driveway.

I can’t recount how many times I’ve tried to photograph these unique blooms. If you ever get a chance to walk the trails at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens this time of year, you will find several breathtaking displays of Lady’s Slippers. I’ve never seen so many in one place. If picked or over-collected, these frequently spotted orchids could easily slip into the rare category over time. For more specific information on our Maine orchids, go to Lady’s-Slippers in Maine. You never know what you might see on a hike in the Maine woods!
Dainty wild blueberry blossoms.

Once I passed the blueberry field, I noticed that our low-bush blueberries were in bloom. A flower with a sweet promise of blueberry pies, muffins and jams. Our local blueberry fields put on a continual color show. Right now, the fields are green and white. Soon the blooms will turn into tiny green berries that will ripen in August.
Purple violets.

At my neighbors farm, the ditch was full of purple violets. One cluster after another, untouched by the weed trimmer. Violets come in several colors including, white, yellow and blue. There are many different kinds of violets making it hard for the untrained eye to identify them. In times past, a small bouquet of purple violets could mean love or faithfulness and white might signify innocence, purity and chastity. I’m not sure what a fistful of dandelions means but I receive this all the time a small person I know!
The fragrance is overwhelming!

Lily of the Valley holds many memories for me. The scent is strong and can transport you mentally to another place and time. This spring bloomer can make an excellent ground cover but will take over any flower bed. They are often found at the base of old steps or a stone foundation. Pull individual stems from the plant to create a tiny, aromatic bouquet!
Happy forget-me-nots on the roadside.

I’m so drawn to blue flowers! Forget-me-nots love to lace their way through moss covered areas with dappled light. Often, they can be spotted along the edge of a brook. They can be found in shades of pink and white also. I can’t tell you how many bunches I’ve picked. Forget-me-nots work wonderfully with bleeding hearts. Each flower has 5 petals and a bright yellow eye. Multiple flowers rest atop each stem. These small blue blossoms make excellent flowers for pressing.
Blue bead lily.

This blue bead lily or Clintonia borealis, can be found hiding in among forest trees. A perennial forest plant named for the blue berry that appears after blooming. Each flower stem will have 3-6 lily like flowers bloom from it. Once established, the blue bead lily will grow in clumps to make a nice show of yellow long into June.
Star flower is from the primrose family.

This fragile woodland plant is such a dainty spring wildflower. Almost insignificant until you get closer and find it has a delicate beauty about it. This North American perennial blooms in May and June and travels by rhizomes.
A native rhododendron.

I have rarely seen the native deciduous rhododendron. I happened to capture this recently. Rhodora, rhododendron canadense is a member of the heath family. It prefers bogs and rocky slopes. For some great information on this wild shrub, go to Rock Gardening Maine Style. I would love to see this naturalize near my gardens but it probably won’t happen. If you see one of these, be sure to take a few pictures.  I won’t say that it’s rare to spot the rhodora, but I don’t see it often.
Buttercups are now emerging from the lawn.

Buttercups are often considered a troublesome weed in a lawn or garden, but along a country road they are lovely. We will never forget the old childhood question about liking butter! But who doesn’t like butter? Our common buttercup, Ranunculus repens, is in the Ranunculus family. If you’ve ever battled it’s tenacious root, you know how tough these guys are. The flowers petals are very shiny and bright. They make excellent flowers for pressing.

These are just a handful of flowers that we see in our area. There were plenty more that I haven’t spotted yet. If we are able to look beyond the cultivated garden beds, we can see a whole world filled with some of the tiniest flowers. Many of our wildflowers are protected so find out before you pick! Plant names change over the years so if you know that one of these names has been changed, just give me a shout. I’ve been playing around with a new site called Go Botany. This is a wonderful new website for plant identification especially for New England. The site is easy to use and helps you quickly find individual plant types by category. It has the capability to identify over 1,200 native and naturalized plants. I also utilize an older book called Spring Wildflowers of New England by Marilyn Dwelley. I hope you have enjoyed taking a walk with me this week. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to share these treasured blooms with you. Thank you for coming along!



Apple Trees In Bloom: A Window To The Past

Around the end of May in Maine, it’s apple blossom time. When you are driving through the countryside, you can now see bushels of pink, white and fushia blooms.  You can make out where there were farms long ago, abandoned orchards or even where volunteer apple trees have seeded years before.  When you see a few apple trees together, sometimes if you look close you can make out where a barn or a farmhouse was.

A friend of mine once had the opportunity to walk from one end of town to the other, picking wild, untended apples along the roadway and tasting them all.  What an experience!  The varied flavors, some tart, some sweet, some in between.

Darker blossoms on a crab apple tree.
Darker blossoms on a crab apple tree.

Okay, wake me up!  I’m about to have an Anne of Green Gables moment here.  Put my hair in a huge bun and put on a petticoat!  There’s just something about apple blossoms.  Maybe it’s because I grew up with a small orchard on our property.  I can remember around a dozen trees of all different varieties.  Many possibly planted in the 1800’s.  Yellow Transparents, crab apples for the most gorgeous jelly you can imagine, an old storage type and a few red apples we were never quite sure of.  Pies started being made with the early varieties in late August and kept being made until the apples were gone.

Our very old apple orchard.
Our very old apple orchard.

Each kind had a slightly different color to the bloom.  I can remember bringing in some of the flowering branches for graduation parties and a few other special occasions. Always filling the house with heavenly scents that would make some of us sneeze!

Beautiful rosey pink buds.
Beautiful rosey pink buds.

Back when potatoes where grown in the fields by the orchard, we had virtually pest free apples.  It only took us a few years after the farmers stopped spraying the fields to figure out why the apples used to grow so well.  But now every few years we would have a good apple year.

Some older apple trees have a wonderful shape!
Some older apple trees have a wonderful shape!

Apparently I’m not the only one around that swoons over old apple trees.  I have found recipes for How to Make Abandoned Orchard Apple Pie.  This was an essay that was from an adult writing contest found at   What a romantic tale of making a pie from found apples!  I would love to do this sometime if I knew a spot to find all of these apples.

Some older Apple trees near my house.
Some older Apple trees near my house.

Many people buy a piece of land and have no idea what varieties of apples are there.  Every year, MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association) holds The Great Maine Apple Day.  Usually held in the fall, they hold workshops and talks about all things apple.  Samples of rare and heirloom types are there to taste.  There is cider making, artwork, vendors and a team of apple identifiers.  Do you have a tree of unknown parentage?  They may be able to tell you what it is and it’s history.  For more information, visit

Hang in there little bee!
Hang in there little bee!

Renovating older apple trees can be quite an undertaking but it can be well worth it.  I have read a lot about this on the University of Maine Cooperative Extension web site.  There’s some great information in bulletin #2409 called Renovating Old Apple Trees.

One of our precious little pollinators!
One of our precious little pollinators!
Blushing blooms!

This time of year the earth is bursting with life.  Lawns are growing too fast and the dandelions are blowing their seeds everywhere.  Plant life is growing like a teenager with a growth spurt.  For now, I must savor the apple blossoms.  I probably won’t have time to dance at dusk through an orchard in bloom, but I can dream!  Their glory is so fleeting.  But there will be other flowers to come.  Take a look around your area.  You may find some abandoned trees that you can get apples from in the fall.  I’ve enjoyed sharing the look into the past today.  Thanks for going back in time with me! Feel free to subscribe in the sidebar!


For more of my Ramblings & Reflections see my post A Throwback To Times Gone By.