Friday, June 6, 2008

Fat-Head Flowers

When I was young, there were peonies in my parents’ yard. The extent of my fascination with those peonies was related to ants: as the flower buds developed and then blossomed, little ants crawled around on them. Each spring, I’d watch for a minute or two, and then find something interesting to do.

I must have liked those ants because when I finally moved into my home in rural America, I requested that peonies be among the flowers my wife added to our yard (in our division of outdoor domains, my wife handles decorative plantings, and I do the food-producing ones—oh, yeah, and the lawn).

In the nine or so years we’ve had peonies here, I don’t recall seeing ants on them. That puzzles me, because there were always ants on my parents’ peonies. That said, peonies are fine flowers. For those who don’t know peonies, the blossoms are quite large, resembling carnations, but fuller with bigger and looser petals. They are more elegant than carnations, but they last for only a few days—whether “live” on the plant, or cut and placed in a vase. Peony flowers grow on the ends of leafy, stalks that are dark green with hints of purple—and quite long… which is a little puzzling.

You see, I’ve yet to grow peonies that support their own blossoms. Those long stalks get tall and then bend under their own weight. They bend more as buds develop on them, and when the flowers pop out, the stalks bow to the ground.

My dad had some metal hoops that stood on 18-inch stakes. He’d install them around his stands of peonies, and the fat-headed stalks would remain upright. I once drove stakes near our peonies, and stretched twine to support the stalks… but it wasn’t an impressive display, so now I let them grow as they will. Beautiful as they are, they insist on falling over.

I’m suspicious of peonies: It seems unlikely that nature would create such a bone-headed plant. Humans probably bred peonies to grow this way… and peonies are so embarrassed about it that they bow their heads to the ground as if awaiting the executioner’s axe. We do them a favor when we cut them and display them in a vase.

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