April Flowers: Tree Peonies

Our tree peonies, which could more accurately be called shrub peonies, began to bloom several days ago. Unlike the herbaceous varieties, the foliage does not die back each year. They bloom earlier, and the blossoms are larger, sometimes up to seven or eight inches in diameter. For sheer fabulousness, the tree peony blossom can hardly be surpassed.  It is, I believe, my favorite flower.

 

Peonies like a good cold winter, so they are rarely seen in Georgia. I first became acquainted with them when I lived in New Jersey, which apparently offers the perfect climate for the flower. As a house-sitting grad student, I brought in armfuls of peonies from the back garden and was then surprised to see the dining room crawling with ants. I learned to check for ants hiding in the profusion of petals.

After my husband and I were first married, we lived in an apartment on the outskirts of Princeton. Once the snow melted, I often walked the pleasant country road that led into the tiny, picturesque town of Rocky Hill. In front of one old farmhouse along the way sat a big stoneware urn filled in spring and summer with cut flowers for sale on the honor system. There was a hand-lettered sign and a battered metal box for the cash. The peonies were especially beautiful and bountiful, and our apartment was well supplied with the dramatic flowers. I loved living in a place where such trust was still possible. The peonies we now grow around our house in Virginia will always remind me of my rambling walks in sweet old Rocky Hill.

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Our first tree peony bud of the season.


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The same bud, now opening, two days later.


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The full-blown blossom, lush and ornate.

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