Monday, April 28, 2008

Back from the brink

About thirty years ago I began to take an interest in the wild peonies. Very few were available in the trade, and those which were were relatively expensive. Two acquisitions from those days still thrive in the garden: Paeonia emodi and the peony which is the subject of this post.

What is it? It was obtained from the old Smirnow firm under the name Paeonia peregrina. When it first bloomed long ago, I was both enchanted and disappointed. I was expecting a bright red peony, and instead there was this "pink" one. Once I got over the initial disappointment, my affection for this plant grew. For years its handsome flowers were an annual feature of the garden. Gradually its site became overgrown and shaded, and with that came decline. At first I didn't notice, and then when I did it was almost too late. The plant had become so run down that only two frail sprouts survived. It had been years since it last bloomed.

Two years ago I rescued it and moved it to a sunny location. It has bounced back nicely, and this year it is blooming again for the first time in perhaps fifteen or twenty years. I've seen a lot more peonies in the years since this one first bloomed here, and while I'm glad to see it back, it no longer has the same fascination it once did. But as long as it survives, it will be an important part of the peony story in this garden.

But what is it? If it is indeed a wild peony, I'm betting on Paeonia arietina (or P. mascula arietina if you prefer).

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