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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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!

Hilary|Everlongardener

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Memories…

4 thoughts on “My Grandmothers Peonies”

  1. Peonies, lilac, Lilly of the valley, apple blossom, poppies and oh yes…. hay! Life gives us a rush of sweet/bittersweet joy as the season progresses. I could flood you with photos of memorable flowers~ all carrying people and sweet memories in their colorful display and fragrant swoon. Thanks for the lovely read ??

  2. For me it’s zinnias. My grandfather had a large garden for an in-town garden but grew few vegetables because he wanted lots of space for his several rows of zinnias in every color available. I still love to see them grow. Beautiful! Geraniums remind me of my wonderful mother-in-law and hydrangeas will always bring back memories of my mother and her many flowers but she loved them the best I think. Anyway, flowers ARE more than beauty they are great memories of better times and a foregleam of better times ahead! Thanks for the memories!

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