Here in the Deep South, peonies are a hit-and-miss gardening affair. Sometimes, the weather and bugs and fungi and soil all manage to cooperate, and POOF! An early-blooming variety gives you two weeks of gloriously ruffled, heavily perfumed blossoms six to eight inches wide.
Seeing and smelling these flowers is the gateway drug to a serious gardening habit. You can’t help wanting more and more and more after an experience like that. Before you know it, you’ve got three, six, a dozen peonies in the yard. You tell yourself, “I don’t have a problem. I can quit any time I want.” This is while you’re sneaking plant catalogs into the employee restroom at work, showing up to important meetings with dirt still under your fingernails, and calling in “sick” so you can stay home and dig several cubic yards of composted sheep manure into your garden beds. You find yourself unable to sleep from your gardening high, so you order even more plants online at 3:00 in the morning. Your spouse gets suspicious. The cycle of lies begins. No, honey, I don’t know who would order ten Japanese maples, six Himalayan lilies, fifty ‘Pheasant’s Eye’ daffodils, twenty blackberry canes, and a Piedmont azalea all at the same time.
Most of the time, though, the weather and bugs and fungi and soil refuse to cooperate, and you’re left with apricot-sized peony buds that turn to soggy brown mush just as they’re about to open. Then it’s all weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth while you walk around in sackcloth and ashes. Sad, but true: this has been my peony story the last few years. Yeah, it’s a rotten way to live. However, the exceptionally cold winter of 2014 made this old-fashioned, finicky plant happy—which, in turn, made me happy. So what if it doesn’t bloom like this again for another three or four years? I don’t care. I’ll take what I can get.
Besides, I can quit any time I want.
LaGrange, Georgia – 8 May 2014
© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)