And sometimes it proves to be a mistake. I have nursed I don’t know how many moribund plants through a slow death. And even if plants have soul (as the Ancient Greeks seem to have thought), I’m not convinced that they’re conscious beings in a way that makes hospice care a moral imperative. It’s just that I hate turning loose of the high hopes I had for the poor thing.
So let be it noted that sometimes the effort is rewarded—and when more appropriately than at Eastertide? The story concerns a tree peony. We had peonies in our garden in Oklahoma City when I was a child, and I was always captivated by their over-the-top splendor. Only the iris could compare for the way they enlivened that difficult climate.
In our part of California, however, we used to be discouraged from planting the familiar herbaceous peonies (the ones that die back to the ground each winter) because it doesn’t get cold enough here for them to bloom. (I think there are some newer varieties now that work better.) Hearing, though, that tree peonies sometimes did well against north walls, I gave one a try.
That was about sixteen years ago and this poor plant has had its troubles. It hadn’t been in the ground many months before a critter sat on it. We do have critters in our garden: squirrels, which display destructive powers beyond anything one would expect of something so small, opossums, skunks, raccoons, the occasional neighborhood cat.
Whatever sort of critter sat on it, the peony broke in half. I pitched the top half, which, of course, included the fancy grafted part. Nowadays, I would probably stick it in a pot and hope. But that was before retirement, when I had less leisure for such dubious projects. Instead, I just moved the surviving lower part of the plant, figuring that I had inadvertently planted it in an established critter path.
A couple of years later, as the plant recovered and gained a few inches of height back, the critter came and sat on it again. Well, it could, of course, have been another critter. But, really, how many critters would be so determined to harm a peace-loving peony? I believe it was the same one, just waiting for another chance to inflict mayhem.
At that point, I selected a third location for the remnant, in a very shady place against a north wall where there was plenty of room for any non-malicious critter to skirt round it. It grew—slightly. The next year it grew a little more. By last year, having been in its new location maybe ten years, it had reached the grand height of maybe ten or twelve inches. Hardly a success story. But it wasn’t in my way, and I left it alone.
Then, a week or so ago, I noticed, among its spring leaves, the round green ball of a peony bud. There emerged from it a big double peony that looked red from a distance, but, up close, was really more of a deep rose. This wasn’t the variety I had bought it for—which in comparison would have been garish and over-assertive, I dare say. This one was better.
It is big and slightly floppy and, even, one might say, a trifle unkempt. It would have been at home in some seventeenth-century Dutch flower painting, perhaps already dropping a petal, maybe with a ladybug perched on it. It would have looked appropriate in the Empress Josephine’s drawing room. It is a peony for the ages.
Or perhaps I’m merely over-excited because, at long last, one of my moribund patients has returned to life. Either way, Happy Easter!
And, just for good measure, another of the delights of this spring, a newly opening ranunculus flower:
All photos by Jon Vieira.