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  • Writer's pictureAnne Hodges White

How to pick a peony

The expansion-of-time part is important.

Never mind that this is about new impressions

—it is, you know—

but don’t analyze for once; just enjoy.

On Tuesday, ants crawl the tight globes. Dozens of ants, dozens of buds. It is said that ants are essential for the opening of these tightly bound promises, that they sip the nectar, somehow loosening the grip of the green glove-like coverings. I don’t know, but I assume Nature knows, and I don’t interfere.

On Wednesday, I check on the peony bed from my upstairs writing room. I think of paint blobs dropped from a higher place, pooling in small cups in a lower place.

On Thursday, the sun licks at them, smothers them all day. They like that. They heat up from the outside in. It’s almost as if they are ready to yawn. They’ll open quickly now. I stay at home, check them often.

Peonies bloom in silence and in dignity, and to catch their annual four-day show, you have to pay attention. You have to be there. If your attention is taken elsewhere, the blooms have come and gone. You wait a year. The rare gift of hot pink, snow white, and deep magenta blooms calls for deference, and you feel the need perhaps for an early summer garden ritual that expands time and deepens presence.

The expansion-of-time part is important. Never mind that this is about new impressions—it is, you know—but don’t analyze for once. That’s the impulse. Don’t do it; just enjoy.

Today. The walk across the grass to the peony bed: I take in everything, and slowly. The still damp grass, the flute-like call of the brown thrush from the deep woods, the warm pavers around the quiet pool, the lush peony bushes, fanned out, deeply green, open, and supportive. I perhaps bought too many; they line the long fence. The buds poke out in all sizes—I think of bubblegum, of drops of blood, of raspberry and vanilla sherbet on sticks—some small, with grazing ants, some pushing open with stage-manager ants singing TaDum, and–ah!–few fully opened pedals with stigma and stamen waiting for the bee business.

The kneeling is part reach, part reverence. The cutting, a slow request for permission, then their accepting sacrifice. The thanksgiving, a prayer and a promise that they’ll have another place to show off. The bouquet, a gift taken back to the house. An expectation briefly acknowledged, more tomorrow.

Some flowers are as beautiful in a vase as they are in a garden. Some, more so—like hybrid teas, and peonies. My peonies like the tall Waterford vase, simple and elegant, that lets them speak for themselves. They’re agreeably adaptable for all their being so short-lived.

They open in hours. Multiple pedaled magnificence. The looking-forward-to has been deep expectancy of the joyful kind; the remembering will be the unattached, peaceful kind. No grasping. Just a moment’s rich experience.

Tomorrow, when they are at their most vertical and gloriously realized–heavy with sun and earth–they, too, will bow their heads. Soon, the June rains will come in torrents and will beat the remaining heads into the ground. I cannot save them all. A deep, unsentimental sadness. Nature is profligate: give it all, take it all.


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