I had an errand or two in town on the 24th of April, a sunny pleasant morning. I'm not keen on trundling around the square seeking a parking space, so usually leave the car elsewhere and walk in to the bank, insurance office, or where ever I need to be.
Business accomplished, on a whim I decided to walk back to my car through a block of residential streets below the square. In addition to a bit of exercise, there was the pleasure of strolling past tidy yards where clumps of iris and late tulips danced in the breeze, while petals drifted onto green grass from a variety of shrubs and small trees.
I caught the sun-warmed scent of them before I saw them: peonies in a sprawl close to the sidewalk. Buds were rimmed with a hint of rose, the blowsy cups of half-open blooms were creamy white, perhaps the old-fashioned variety, 'Maxima.'
Back at home I inspected my own peonies--I have seven,
The buds were still clasped tight in their green jackets.
The first blossoms began to open on May 2nd.
This may be the heirloom, Sarah Bernhardt. It is a division of a huge plant flourishing at the Gradyville property.
We worked in the gardens through that sunny Tuesday afternoon knowing that rain was on the way.
This lovely thing came to me nameless, discovered amongst an offering of red peonies at a
Wednesday, May 3rd, was a gloomily green morning.
As I harvested kale and Swiss chard the rain began, icy droplets sliding beneath the collar of my shirt.
Dumping the colander of greens in the kitchen sink I ran outside to rescue my peonies.
Roses and iris were taking a beating as well as the peonies.
I gathered what I could, shaking each flower gently to dislodge moisture and tiny ants.
The rain continued through Saturday, sometimes a gentle mist, more often cold wind-driven
sheets of water.
Each morning I scuttled out, shears in hand, to clip the fresh crop of bedraggled blossoms.
It has always rained on the peonies!
In my native Vermont we hoped for the earliest varieties to appear by the end of May, to be added to sprays of purple and white lilac for the 'Decoration Day' exercises at school.
In an ideal springtime peonies were at their elegant best, with lemon lilies and mock orange, to grace graduation ceremonies and June weddings.
Peonies don't enjoy rain. The heavy satiny heads collect water, slender stems bend outward and downward with the weight of it, and the whole bush collapses in an unlovely sodden sprawl.
Anticipating this seasonal onslaught of ill-timed rain, I have often labored with stakes and twine, attempting to stabilize each bush. I've spread mulch around the perimeter of the plants hoping to minimize the splattering of rain-pummeled soil.
I can never save all the peonies. I fill the McCoy vases, the clear glass vases, tuck the shorter stems into ceramic jugs.
The blossoms relax in the sheltered warmth of the house, silky petals unfold, the delicately exotic scent vies with the fragrance of full blown roses.
When the peony petals fall I add them to the bowl where rose petals are drying, the time-honored way of cherishing fleeting loveliness.
It always rains on the peonies--but I can't imagine a garden without them.