Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Learning from The Peony.

These beauties came from Sevald Nursery at Mill City Farmer's Market in Minneapolis.
Peonies are my favorite flower, and have been since I was twelve years old. In Minnesota, peonies bloom for two to three weeks from early to mid June, in a glorious explosion of color ranging from satiny ballet slipper pink to the deep fuschia of a fine Cabernet. As June deepens, the blossoms swell, burst and begin to hang heavily from their skinny green stems. After a rainstorm, their ruffly layers of petals fill with condensation and their massive heads sink deeply into the damp lawns.

Cut a few to bring inside while the heads are still the size of a kumquat, and they will open. At first, it's slow and lazy, but suddenly the blossom unfurls into a glorious dish of velvety petals almost five inches wide, revealing a fringe of feathery yellow stamens. It feels almost indecent to look deeply into their centers, as though one is considering the depths of the finely ruffled tulle petticoats of the Moulin Rouge dancers in the days of Toulouse-Lautrec.

And then, spent from the effort of this decadent display, the petals will begin to slip off, in a dramatic pile of plumage, like a tropical bird molting. The pile of soft, perfect petals in a spectacular mound of color and texture is so beautiful, I hesitate to discard them right away, instead, leaving them scattered on the tabletop like precious confetti.

What is it that makes a peony so delightful? You will rarely find them in supermarket bouquets, since they are so delicate and short lived, but here in Minnesota, people plant them in their yards with abandon. They are plants that offer little in the way of daily or immediate reward. The flowering season is perilously short- two to three weeks in early to mid June is the longest one can expect. The rest of the year, they aren't particularly lovely as a shrub- just a lot of scraggly green leaves. A sturdy perennial, peonies take several years to get established, sending thick, strong roots, deep, deep into the earth. A peony bush may take as long as five years to begin producing flowers prodigiously, but once they get going, they can be exceptionally long lived plants, lasting forty to fifty years.

For me, each of these details is worth considering. The peony's enduring appeal lies particularly with it's fleeting but unfettered flowering. You must wait, and wait and wait. The buds are tight and compact, with the diligence and dignity of internal work being done. The anticipation and enchantment only grows as you watch the bud slowly begin to swell and ripen. And then, in an instant, they give every last ounce of beauty they can muster, withholding nothing of their full, rich and complete abandon. There is nothing shy about a peony in full bloom.

It's a short season, but it comes back every year, without fail. I'd like to live my life that way. I'd like to prepare with a deep inner concentration and focus. Slowly, I will build momentum. Then, when the moment arrives, I'll let all the beauty I've known flood through me in a display so ostentatious and un-self conscious that even the denouement is beautiful.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, I lived in Minnesota for 20 years. Loved the peonies.

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