I grew up in a very small town in Iowa. Tthere were 779 people who made their home in that place where there were no stop lights, elevators, or fast food restaurants. We left the house unlocked and went on vacation and when we returned nothing was amiss. In the summer, I would get on my bicycle and ride around town and visit friends, stop at the corner grocery for candy, and go to visit the playground at the city park. Every Saturday night, the farmers came to town and did their “trading” along Main Street. People truly were kind and gentle. Ladies wore hats and white gloves to church and men helped a fellow farmer by harvesting his crops if he had fallen ill.
My grandfather arrived there when he was a small boy. He came with his parents in a wagon that was pulled by oxen from Illinois. They lived in a log cabin. It made quite an impression on me when he told me that he had watched Indians file through the prairie grass beside his cabin. Elmer Wood lived to be almost 100 years old so he had quite a few stories to tell. He was a gardener with three acres of flat land a few blocks from his house. What did he plant? Flowers! Before I was born, he had the fields planted in gladiolus. Some years he would harvest them and send them up to Chicago on the train. He once hired a man who rode the rails to spray water over them and keep them fresh at every so many stops. The man fell down on the job and the flowers arrived in Chicago looking very sad.
Another time, my Aunt Mary who was a school teacher, covered a float with “glads” for the fall festival parade. It was the closest Moulton, Iowa ever got to the Tournament of Roses parade. Of course she won the first place prize for her effort!
My grandfather learned how to cross polinate the gladiolus and he would name the new flower after people in the family. I know that he named one “Maryetta” after his daughter. I wish that I had one named after me. That would just be the best thing ever!
My grandfather was a patient man. I think that must be a dominating trait for gardeners. He liked to be served his evening meal on a white linen tablecloth with matching linen napkins. Every paper boy knew that it was unwise to try to collect during Elmer’s dinner hour. He would leave this waiting on the porch until he finished eating. Once, a fire broke out in a second story bedroom and he continued eating as the firemen ran into the front room and went up the stairs to attend to the fire.
By the time I was born, he had stopped growing the gladiolus and he had planted the acreage in peonies. You may say “pee’-ah-nees,” or you may say, “pee-oh’-nees,” but either way they were breathtaking. My mother would take me with her to cut only the most beautiful to take to the cemetaries for Memorial Day. We saved coffee cans and dug little holes in the ground so that the wind would not knock them over. I learned to love flowers and I learned the names of family members who had gone before.
We don’t have any photos of the peony field, but I found this one on the inter net. Elmer planted red, pink, deep rose, and white. But, there were at least as many as you see here.
Peony photos from www.trouvais.com
The peonies were ususally covered with black ants. I believe that they help the tight flower buds to open. The bunch below is very much like the ones we would cut and take to Oakland Cemetary west of town.
Have you ever smelled the scent of a peony? It is simply THE best smell you may ever encounter. It is at once sweet, fresh, and heavenly.
My grandfather did not grow any with the two toned pattern that you see here.
by New York Botanical Garden
This gardener liked the way the white peonies played off of the purple flowers.
by Matthew Cunningham
I wish that they bloomed all summer long like a rose blooms. But since they do not, you have to enjoy them twice as much while they are in bloom.
by Susan Cohan
The soft pink of this one is stunning. This is a color that inspires poetry!
by Jocelyn Chilvers
by Mary Oliver
Poem: “Peonies,” by Mary Oliver, from New and Selected Poems (Beacon Press).
This morniing the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart
as the sun rises,
as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery finers
and they open–
pool of lace,
white and pink–
and all day the black ants climb over them,
boring their deep and mysterious holes
into the curls,
craving the sweet sap,
taking it away
to their dark, underground cities–
and all day
under the shifty wind,
as in a dance to the great wedding,
the flowrs bend their bright bodies,
and tip their fragrance to the air,
their stems holding
all that dampness and recklessness
gladly and lightly,
and there it is again–
beauty the brave, the exemplary,
Do you love this world?
Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
Do you adore the green grass, with its terror bbeneath?
Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden,
and exclaiming of their dearness,
fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,
with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
by Sheila Schmitz
by Laura Copley-Smith
by Laura Copley-Smith
If you are planning a wedding, there could be no more beautiful bouquet.
by Georgia Tildesly
Keep a watchful eye. Spring is coming and so are the peonies. Create and be happy!