Peonies – A Father’s Day Memory

A summer thunderstorm knocked off the petals of most of the lovely peony blooms last night. Thankfully, a few tightly closed buds hold promise of beauty yet to unfurl in this summer’s peony finale. As the peonies fade in their glory and prepare for curtain call and their final bow, the daylilies in their own splendidly colorful petaled costumes stand in the wings ready to take center stage and continue the summer’s floral show.

I’m excited for that show too, but I so wish the peony extravaganza would last a little longer! It’s so hard to say goodbye to the peonies each year. 

Last year, an anonymous friend gifted me with a new peony to add to my garden [I wrote about that here]. Newly transplanted peonies often take a few years to get comfy enough to bloom again. I was delightfully surprised when Paeonia ‘Bartzella’ Itoh decided to be part of this year’s flower show as it showed off a solitary blossom – a double-ruffled beauty in soft yellow, very much reminding me of the color of lemon meringue pie. As the petals unfurled their loveliness, I could glimpse touches of red, seemingly watercolor painted in the flower’s center. Though the gorgeous blossom lasted only about a week, its performance earned a ‘Bravo’ from everyone who saw it, and left me longing for next year’s floral performance.

Paeonia ‘Bartzella’ Itoh

Many types of peonies are in my garden’s cast of floral characters – each one lovely in its own way. ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ is one garden lovely that reminds me of equally lovely Judy, the friend who shared it with me from her own garden. I love having little bits of this particular friend’s garden scattered throughout my own. The little bursts of color remind me of this special friend – an encouraging sister in Christ. Judy is a ballerina and the fragrant peony she shared with me always reminds me of a prima donna in a fluffy pink tutu.

Paeonia ‘Sarah Bernhardt’
Dad’s Paeonia lactiflora ‘Kansas’

But the leading lady in each year’s peony show is clearly one of my Dad’s peonies that I have had growing in my gardens for years. A giant, ruffly, rich rosy red one. My Dad had these show-stopping peonies planted along the west side of our Milwaukee home for as long as I could remember. As I run my fingers through their satiny blooms and take in their light fragrance, “Dad memories” come to mind.

In one of these memories, I was about 8 or 9 years old and seated in the backseat of our family’s car struggling for every breath. Mom was taking me to the hospital emergency room because I was having a severe asthma attack. Dad stayed home with my brother and sister, but the look of concern was clearly written on his face. As mom backed out of the gravel driveway, my dad motioned for her to stop the car. Dad pulled out his pruners, reached over to the beautiful roses scrambling up the side of our house, clipped a perfect rose and handed it to me as he leaned through the car window  and gave me a little kiss on the cheek.

That sweet memory of my Dad, forever etched in my mind, often tumbles out unexpectedly as I tend my own gardens…especially Dad’s peonies, which always seem to take their final bow around Father’s Day.

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