In our globally connected world it is hard to distinguish our garden seasons. Roses, lilies, and tulips show up in markets and bouquets every week. Asparagus and blueberries are available all year. Peony season seems an exception from this sense of timelessness. Peony season is spring and on my calendar it is May. Peony bushes were a part of my childhood landscape in Indiana. Since 1957 the state flower of Indiana is the Peony, or Paeonia so their popularity was notable. The bushes formed a line around our home and were planted right in the lawn. This meant much grumbling by my sister and I about pulling the grass out of the bushes late in the season. Initially though in the spring the grass was still short and the anticipation of their blooms was still quite pleasant. Peony season meant warmer temperatures. The temperature and the peony buds brought out the black ants. The ants hungry for the nectar surrounding the buds crawl up and down the stems. It is an often told myth that ants help the buds open but science says this isn’t so. Still the ants had to be removed from the flowers before we could bring them into the house for a bouquet for our dinner table. We would dunk the blooms into a bucket of water and wait for the ants to float off the petals.
The peonies I knew bloomed in red, white and shades of pink There were single blooms with shaggy yellow centers or double blooms densely packed in shades of pink.
The blooms are magnificent, a botanical delight. I remember the first year I saw peonies for sale in the market my heart swelled with emotions. I knew the cluster of tight pink buds the size of a baby’s fist would open into bowl size blooms of pale pink petals. As a transplanted midwesterner the chance to enjoy a bouquet of peonies was an absolute thrill. An open peony ruffled, twirled and lightly scented is beautiful. A single flower is a dramatic statement. A dozen blooms in a crystal vase is a regal display.
May is Peony season and the blooms arrive in time to fulfill an important tradition. Our Mother and Dad taught us about the importance of Memorial Day or Decoration Day. Though notably a remembrance of military service it was also the time we visited the cemetery to remember our grandmothers, grandfathers and family members no longer living. This year for the first time my sister took a white peony to our Mother’s grave. Peony season is so glorious and so fleeting. As the blooms drop their silken petals it reminds me of how brief and yet how beautiful life is.