I am not a good gardener, in that I don't like to weed, but I do love spring flowers and their fragrance. I inherited several peony plants with my house, and at the beginning they were all laden with flowers every spring--gigantic, luscious blooms like the ones pictured here. Over the years, though, they grew less and less, and this year we had the worst crop ever: limp and barely present flowers without much fragrance.
My father says this is because I am letting the other plants choke the life out of the peonies; but I'm not sure this is the answer. I miss the burgeoning loveliness of a whole bush of peonies in full bloom. People walking down the street used to ask us which plant was emanating that wonderful scent.
While pursuing the mystery of the declining peonies, I looked them up in my handy Bulfinch's guide, and found that they were named for Paeion, a legendary physician, since they were among the earliest medicinal flowers. They are the symbol, however, of SHAME, since "necklaces of seeds were worn to counter shameful diseases like leprosy, lunacy, epilepsy and chronic nightmares, and the roots were also worn by children to help them cut their teeth." Hmmm. If I don't whip my peonies into shape, we will not be protected from leprosy--and am I mistaken in thinking that my lunacy is growing in proportion to the plant's decline? :)
Peonies were also said to be like mandrakes, in that when someone tried to uproot them, they cried so horribly that the uprooter would die. They solved this by suggesting that dogs should pull them out (although they don't mention if the dogs were immune to the shrieking).
In any case, if anyone can answer the mystery of my declining peonies, I would be grateful for your gardening advice.
(Source of quote: Todd, Pamela. A FLORAL TREASURY: THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS. Bulfinch, Little Brown: 1993.