Friday, May 27, 2016

Peonies

Jannelle's comment on my previous post that showed the plantings I had done on our condo's walkway entrance stirred up some memories about the peony plant in one of the pictures. She had noted that the plant already had some buds on it, which is somewhat unusual.  The peony plant that this one came from typically bloomed in the week after Memorial Day. Those early buds make me think that I am being watched over by the man who gave me the original plant and taught me how to take care of it.....

When we moved into our house 45 years ago, we were entering a strange new world of responsibility that we may not have been prepared for.  Sure, we knew the basic duties that needed to be taken care of on a regular basis to keep our new home comfy and cozy, but we weren't quite prepared for the myriad mundane chores that seemed to increase in number every month.  The outside work, for instance, was a revelation.  I wasn't so naive as to think the grass would cut itself or the snow in the driveway would  miraculously melt before I could get my shovel, but I was unhappily surprised at the amount of time all those chores took.

But we learned to deal with all work that seemed to continuously pile up. As long as we knew what to do, we had no problem doing it. Our youthful enthusiasm and boundless energy saw us through most of the problems that were stacked on our doorstep. On those occasions when we were stymied by some household conundrum, we relied on the knowledge and expertise and good old common sense that our elderly next door neighbors had in abundance. Thankfully they were willing to pass some of that knowledge on to us.

When it came time to do some gardening or landscape work all I had to do was ask Karol, my elderly next door neighbor, how to get the job done.  Karol was a consummate gardener.  He could grow anything and have the plants thrive way beyond expectations. So when I put in a new concrete walkway from our front door to the driveway and decided to plant peonies on each side flanking that walk, naturally I sought Karol's advice on selecting the right variety of peony, how to plant them, and how to take care of the new plants. I got the idea of using peonies along the walkway from looking at the peonies that Karol had planted along his driveway.  Those peonies were spectacular when they bloomed each year.  I was hoping to get the same result with my flowers.

When I told him I planned on buying two dozen plants, he looked at me like I was crazy.
"Nah." He drew out the word into three syllables in his thick Polish accent, all the while shaking his head at such an absurd idea. "You don't buy. I give you." That made me shake my head at such an absurd idea.
"We take cutting from my plant.  We dig up like this." He took the shovel he had been leaning on and proceeded to split one of the peonies along his driveway in half, digging up a sizable chunk of root stock while leaving the other half in place.

While he dug up the two dozen plants I needed, he told me all about those peonies. When he first came to this country after WWll in 1948 (the year I was born), he lived in an apartment that had the remnants of a garden gone to seed. Among the weeds he found a rather forlorn and wilted peony plant that he took a special interest in. He turned that sickly specimen into a prime example of what a peony should be.  At that time he judged that plant to be around 75 years old, figuring it had probably been planted when the building was built. When he married Emma and moved to a different apartment, he took that peony plant with him.  Then when he and Emma built the house next door in 1962, he propagated all the plants that lined the edge of his driveway from that one plant that he had found abandoned in that backyard 15 years before. That made that original peony about 90 years old. We bought our house in 1972. At that time Karol's peonies, all propagated from that original plant, could be traced back 100 years. For the remainder of the time we lived in that house, 42 years, following Karol's example, I took great care to maintain those 24 plants that were the direct offspring of Karol's  original peony.

So when we sold the house two years ago, it was only natural that we would take a cutting from that row of nearly 150 year old peonies alongside the walkway, and transplant it here where it will serve as a reminder of our history and honor the memory of Karol.

Hopefully that line of peonies will continue for the next 150 years to bring good luck and beauty to whomever has the good fortune to take care of them.

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