Monday, November 2, 2009

A paean to Paeonia

What this picture doesn't show you is that the whole plant is only 10" tall or so: full sized peony flowers on a little pipsqueak plant. Of course, this is Paeonia cambessedessii, the tiny peony of the Balearic Isles of Spain that is mentioned with hushed tones in various rock garden journals and publications, always implying its difficulty and tenderness. I got my plant four or so years ago from Arrowhead Alpines (fully grown: it wasn't cheap, but worth every penny). It bloomed the first year with two flowers, the next year with five or six, this year with a dozen or more. It's the sort of plant the rivets the attention of your visitors, so even the mass of Gentiana acaulis growing next to it with a dozen trumpets barely elicits a comment. It blooms early in May, even in late April, when the weather is cool. This year the flowers lasted almost three weeks--even coming through a snowfall unfazed. Did I mention that the plant is sleek mahogany purple as it emerges, and that it keeps this color under the foliage all year, and that the upper leaves have a metallic, bluish sheen, and that everyone I who sees it wants it? When the seedpods finally opened in late October, they were enormously decorative: I shall have to blog separately on them. They're worth it!
One of the great pleasures of plantsmanship is finding out a rare, choice plant is also extremely accommodating, and down right chummy. My garden is full of treasures of all kinds, plants I have grown since childhood that are like family to me, that have prospered and propagated and now grow in gardens far and wide. But it is always the new gem, that is novel and utterly resplendent (like her majesty here) that fills one with pride (like a dumpy poltroon, with a gorgeous woman adorning his arm). This year this peony produced almost 200 seed that I have shared with a half dozen of the best plantspeople in Colorado. I suspect one of them will hit pay dirt, and in a few years we'll see this at Costco or worse in the spring. Oh well!
By then I shall have more trophy plants leaning on my elbow!

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