Archive for Thursday, June 2, 2005

In praise of peonies

June 2, 2005

The peonies in my back yard originally came from the state houses on the prison grounds about 65 years ago.

When I was about 10 years old, the grounds in the area between the officers' houses and the street were literally loaded with rows of beautiful white, red, and pink peonies. There are still some plants along the service road to the prison that goes past the Lansing Historical Museum.

People that I talked to then told me these plants were introduced to this area about 1880 to 1900.

I was able to become friends with one of the trusties that took care of these plants, and he taught me how to transplant, re-root and get new starts from many different flowers. His name was Tom. He also had worked for my dad in the engine room of the coal mine before he became a trusty, so dad knew it would be safe for me to visit with him.

Tom gave me some peony bulbs one fall that I got started at home. Through the years, I divided these plants and shared them with friends and family. One plant would produce enough for 20 or 30 new plants. The bulbs are tuberous in shape and attached to the crown of the plant. The blooms have a wonderful fragrance and after they have been cut back, the bush remains a beautiful green plant the remainder of the summer.

One of my first jobs was "de-budding" peonies at the Holman Nursery that was located where Hardee's and First National Bank are now. It was my job to break off the two side buds so the main flower would be larger.

Peonies are a perennial and hardy and easy to care for. They do not like to be disturbed once they are established. Some plants have been known to live 100 years without being disturbed. Once they are divided, it takes about three years to produce large blooms.

Surprisingly enough, about 2000 years ago peonies were used mainly for medicinal purposes. The roots, bark, seeds and flowers were all believed to be of some use as medicine. I just think they're beautiful.

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