Two young things were the subjects of the first two flower portraits. So it’s exciting to turn to a more assured, mature beauty for our third. She is known formally as Paeonia Suffruticosa, but Peony is the name we are likely to recognize her by:
How lush, how full, how magnificent she is! Proud. Self-confident. And somewhat different from the herbaceous peonies that we grow in our flower borders. (At least to my eyes.) Paeonia Suffruticosa belongs to the family of tree peonies, tall hardy shrubs that are temperamental enough to suit a diva’s personality, but rewarding enough to be worth the effort.
And what a family history she has! Tree peonies already hundreds of years ago were considered the ideal flower by Chinese literati, the poets and painters of ancient times. She has been found for centuries “on vase and jar, on screen and fan” (to borrow from Gilbert & Sullivan’s Mikado). If there can be said to be a national flower of China, it is the tree peony, the pride and joy of many public gardens there. And the admiration and veneration of the Japanese doesn’t lag far behind.
When we visited famed Chanticleer Gardens in Wayne, PA, last summer, we were greeted at the entrance gates to the mansion itself by a whole tribe of tree peonies. I chose one among these gorgeous sisters for a close-up; but any and all of them were stunners:
When we lived in the Berkshires, I was a guide at one of the so-called “cottages,” actually mansions, from the Gilded Age. Naumkeag, the home of Joseph Choate and his family, has magnificent, unusual gardens. But in the two summers I worked there, the terrace of tree peonies never fully came into bloom, at least not for more than a couple of days, and sparsely. Conditions were never quite right — too cold, not cold enough; too much rain, too little rain. Perhaps because Chanticleer is farther South, perhaps because this was a particularly favorable late spring, tree peonies were bursting forth all around us, a deluge, a veritable waterfall of beauty.
I’m glad to have seen them.