If you know anything about me at this point, it’s that I like to give the people what they want. And typically, what the people want is exactly what I want. That’s why this week, “p” is for peony! I had so many requests to feature this bloom — and clearly it is one of my favorites — so here we are, off to the races. I find that peonies never fail to evoke “ooh” and “aah” responses from even the most indifferent flower consumer. The fluffy, layered petals, the intergalactic centers, the divine fragrance and the saturated colors all pack a powerful wallop. Today I will be using just a few of the many hundreds of peony varieties: Glowing Candles (white), Coral Charm (peach), Le Charme (dark pink), Jules Elie (light pink) and Garden Treasure (yellow).
I think my absolute most-beloved peony variety is the Coral Charm (pictured above), but honestly, this is like determining which one of your children you love most :) Peonies are native to Asia, Southern Europe and Western North America and range in hue from deep red and light pink to peach, yellow and white. They have a relatively short blooming season, peaking from late spring through early summer, which makes them all the more sought after. Peonies fall into three basic categories: bush peonies, tree peonies and intersectional peonies. The types of flowers within those categories refer to the shape of the blossom, arrangement of the petals, country of origin, etc. — single, double, semi-double, bomb double, Japanese, anemone. Growers in various regions form new hybrids each season, and it is always a thrill to see what’s new at the market every year.
The peony root has long been used in traditional medicine in Korea, China and Japan for general concerns with the central nervous system and cardiovascular system and to address convulsions, allergic reactions and many other more specific ailments. As always, please consult with a professional before deciding to mash up the plants in your backyard and have a go at concocting your own serum :)
Peonies can be very fickle flowers, indeed. First of all, they seem to come into and go out of season in a flash. Once it starts to get legitimately warm in spring, they appear, but the minute it gets too hot, they shy away again until the following year. On the East Coast of the US, by July 4th, they are generally no more, particularly as a cut flower. Second, once they are cut and you bring them home (or bring them inside, you lucky ducks with a garden), if the buds are too tight, they might not open quickly enough for your taste or even at all! Finally, once they open, they are grand and gorgeous for only a few days before they explode into a pile of petals. But alas, our love affair with the gentle peony endures.
Here she is, an elegant Le Charme peony sealed up tight. I have already removed all the foliage up to the bud, cut her at a sharp angle and placed her in a generous amount of warm water to encourage her to pop. But I need this bloom to open immediately, as my readers enjoy a lush, full arrangement, and they need to see her glorious center. SO . . .
I fill up a vase with clean, warm water and submerge her head for a few seconds, up to a few minutes. Sometimes, if the situation is more critical (“I need to make this bridal bouquet NOW!”), I will let the head soak for up to a half hour or so. As you hold the head underwater, gently swish it around, and you will see air bubbles coming up as the water seeps into the bud.
And just like that, she awakens.
A few minutes later, she was happy to join the rest of her colleagues in a mercury glass urn (here, I used the Jules Elie peonies combined with a green accent of “p” for pistachio greens!). There are so many spectacular ways to design with peonies. Today I have chosen two designs that layer the blooms in a riot of color and texture. I think both have a very baroque feel, appropriate to the fancy peony.
Above, I used a basic, cylindrical glass vase. I filled the vase with modern, variegated hosta leaves, which I think are an amazing complement to the sorbet hues of the peonies in this arrangement (Coral Charm, Garden Treasure and Glowing Candles).
Look at these two beauties paired up . . . almost too much. Almost.
How about that fried-egg-looking Glowing Candle peony?
Please go find some peonies at the local market, in a neighbor’s yard, in a public garden or wherever before they leave us again. Lean in close and inhale the sweet aroma, but be careful you don’t get an ant on your nose — they love the peony nectar. Join me back here when I struggle to top “p” with “q”!