Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Cure for Lunacy in My Back Yard

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.


Robin L. said...

I looove peonies! I'd say your dad could be right, or they may need fertilizer if your soil isn't great. My very favorite resource is Hop onto the peony forum and they'll definately be able to diagnose the problem!

They could also have pests, or have bloomed themselves to death (too many flowers = not enough energy to maintain the plant itself).

Hope you can save them!!!

Julia Buckley said...

Thanks, Robin! I wish I had a good gardener on call at all times--but maybe that's what the website provides, eh?

I'll check it out--thanks for the tip. Meanwhile, my lunacy increases . . .

Anonymous said...

Check out the forums from the Fine Gardening magazine; there are some very wise people there. See:

I enjoyed the Ken Lewis interview.
-Theresa de Valence

Julia Buckley said...

Thanks, Theresa! On both counts. :)

Admin said...

We have peonies that my mother planted about six years ago. Ours are becoming a bit crowded and that may be the problem with yours. Peonies need to be separated by dividing the roots every few years. If you shake the soil off, you can see where the roots have crowns that can be split and replanted. Peonies don't like to be shoulder to shoulder. They like room to spread. I love their fragrance and don't think any perfumier has captured it.
Shine On,

Julia Buckley said...

Hmmmm . . . very interesting! And is there a certain time that I have to do the digging? Could I do it now, for example?