P ink lace with frills is stylish in Spring
E levating all around to grandeur
O pening soft petals in continuity
N ever remember snowy days in February
Y ellowing petals under the summer sun’s heart.
–Nell Geiser, 1998

The first peonies have opened. Bright pink and bosomy. There are others to come: more pinks (the classics), the deep red Philippe Rivoire, a white, and a yellow hybrid.

Peonies – Paeonia — are native to Southern Europe, Asia and Western North America. In Colorado, in the Rockies, there’s a town named for them. And throughout the U.S. — perhaps elsewhere, too — they are the flower most often laid on graves on Memorial Day.

In Asia, the peony is considered the flower of longevity and indeed they are long-lived, and can easily outlive the gardener. In the second year after planting, they are likely to show one blossom. The next year, two. The next three, and so on. The crones of the flower world, gorgeous floral hags (or hagiographers), peonies keep time and therefore history. Some folk believe that if the plant displays an odd number of flowers, there will surely be a death in the house before the year is out.

Among certain pagans, peony’s magic powers are protection and exorcism. When the flower is worn, it guards the body and soul. In the home they not only make beautiful arrangements, but ward off evil spirits. The root is used to cure lunacy and is sometimes a substitute for mandrake in casting spells, though unlike the mandrake, peony does not – to anyone’s knowledge – cry out in pain when it’s dug up. A necklace of peony root, if worn by children, will prevent convulsions.

Coming soon: the Japanese tale of Princess Aya and the peony.