Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Peony Love

"Flowers seem intended for the solace of ordinary humanity." 
- John Ruskin

Head of a Woman with Peonies - Franz Dvorak, Oil on canvas, 1903

Peony season has arrived! The lacy, luscious, lovely flower is showing up all over, and I couldn't be happier. The peony is my very favorite flower, both for aesthetic and sentimental reasons. When I start to see the peonies bloom, I know that we have most decidedly started the transition from spring into summer.

The peony holds an honored place in the plant world, having a recorded history that goes back thousands of years.  The fragrant flower is said to have medicinal properties, and was named for Paeon, the physician to the Greek gods. According to legend, he was given the flower on Mount Olympus by the mother of Apollo.

It is equally revered in China, where it is the national flower, and is considered a symbol of prosperity and honor. 

In Japan, it is a sign of masculinity and bravery.

In the world of astrology, peonies are the flowers assigned to Scorpios, as they are flowers that reflect the sensitivity and power of those born under that sign.

These are all reasons enough to love the peony, right? But as I said, I also have a sentimental reason to love this flower. I own a peony bush (well, really, it's several bushes now) that has been in my yard for over ten years now. 

That fact alone in not very impressive, but my lovely, strong, white peony bush which blooms with such profusion each spring, bloomed once in my grandmother's garden in Kansas City over one hundred years ago. 

My grandmother shared her flowers with my mother and father, who had moved their growing family from her house to a new little chateau in the burgeoning suburbs of Kansas City  in 1954. When my parents left that house seventeed years later, some of the treasured peonies went with them.

Through two more moves, the peonies were dug up and divided, some left at the previous houses, but some going to the new ones. 

My mother shared her peonies with me over thirty years ago when she and I dug up one of the prolific bushes in her back yard and lovingly wrapped the root ball in damp newspapers and plastic for the drive to St. Louis, where it was planted into a beautiful perennial garden in my own backyard.

Nearly twenty years later, when we moved to the house we currently own, the plant was divided again, and now resides in Weldon Spring.

Each year when the enormous bright white flowers bloom, I see my grandmother, my mother, and myself, tending the lovely blossoms, cutting a few for a fragrant arrangement, and marveling at the miracle of their beauty.

I often wonder just how far back that peony bush goes. Did my grandmother receive it from her mother? I like to think so. 

I look forward, someday, to digging up the lush and luxurious peony bush that now graces my back yard, and dividing it to share with The Graceful One.

As a dear friend said to me recently, "This is what gardening is all about."  

Here is my first bouquet of peonies this year. Oh, and the vase they're in? It was the first object my grandmother bought with her first paycheck she ever earned. How cool is that?

May the beauty of flowers bring a message to you today.

You've heard this music from me before, and chances are, you'll hear it again. I will look for any excuse to play my favorite pieces for you. This is the "Flower Duet" from the beautiful French opera, Lakmé, by Léo Delibes. 

In Act I of the opera, Lakmé (a Brahmin priestess) and her servant, Malilika, sing about going to the river to gather the flowers. Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca join the Baden-Baden Opera for this lovely Gala performance. Enjoy!

Baden-Baden Opera Gala 2007.

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