Garden (summer)

The Properous Peony

Posted on 25 June 2015 at 10:30am

As a signifier of prosperity and good luck, the peony has long since been recognised as the floral symbol of China and is revered for its beauty the world over. Although much favored throughout Asia for centuries, the virtues of the peony's curative qualities were also recorded by a Greek poet as long ago as 300CE who referred to the peony as 'the queen of all herbs'. As with most plants, their seeds are credited with having medicinal properties said to include anti-oxidants and Paenonal; selected for helping to ease headaches and provide relief for asthma, amongst the considerable number of composites thus far extracted from the plants of the Paeoniaceae family. When mythical gods and goddess' ruled the lives of the Greeks, a young student by the name Paeon learned of the medicinal qualities of the peony root, in particular, its ability to ease the pain of childbirth; Zeus saved him from certain death by a jealous tutor, and turned Paeon into a peony flower. The legacy and his namesake is deemed to have provided pain relief for women ever since.

Whilst being indigenous to China for thousands of years, peonies are thought to have made their way into cottage gardens after being introduced in the early Middle Ages by Benedictine monks. Marco Polo also discovered the peony which doubtless led to their popularity in European gardens. However, for various reasons, not least a world war, the peony fell out of favor in the mid 20th century; but, as with many other seemingly old fashioned varieties, it is enjoying a revival. And rightly so. Often fragrant, blooms of various forms add to the character of this vast herbaceous peony species. Their palette ranges from the deepest crimson reds and magentas, through pinks and apricots to lemon, cream and white, making them welcome additions to flower borders.

Here in our own garden, tucked into a busy floral border, is a peony we rescued three years ago. Originally found struggling in amongst an inherited and much overgrown heavy rock garden, we had all but given the peony up for lost. Having only witnessed it bloom once during our first spring season before the peony disappeared, it took a fair degree of patience to bring it back to life in a more hospitable part of the garden. During a wet autumn and before a winter in the grip of freezing weather and deep snow; what remained of the peony was dug up and left to over- winter in the shed whilst the rocks were turned over, and piled according to size pending a decision as to what to do with them. A chat with our local horticulturist advised that our peony tubers only needed to be split to remove one which had the appearance of having been nibbled at by a mouse, and replanted in a permanent position. These plants do not like to be moved and if they are, can take time to re-establish. With the planting came a generous supply of organic material and plenty of room to grow.

Two years later, and a fair degree of patience and potassium feed, we have been rewarded with two plants, one of which has the most beautiful deep crimson bloom. As yet, they are not particularly big shrubs, but with time and care, we look forward to seeing more flowers as the plants grow stronger. Since we do not know the name of our peony, I call it Prosperity; having endured the indignity of the rock garden, a transplant and harsh winters our peony has exhibited perseverance and beauty to rival some of its more modern contemporaries in the flower border.