Peony: Precious and Prime
April at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is the Perfect Time for Peony Watching
Peony embraces the kind of staggering beauty that always melts my heart and takes my breath away. For me, spring would only and truly come when the first peonies blazingly open, with their sweet, mysterious curls stroked by the sun’s buttery fingers. As a child, every time our peonies bloomed, I would run out to the garden, bare-foot and ruffled-hair, just to suck in a lungful of their sweet fragrance and adore their trembling, ephemeral charm. White and pink, coral and crimson, scarlet and purple, precious peonies always bring me an out-of-this-world, indescribable joy that no other flowers can compare.
This week, strolling down the cool brick paths around Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, I was brimming with happiness to come by this gorgeous peony right in her prime. How could a spring day be more perfect, after all those dreary cold days, to admire this graceful belle as she rose to kiss the sun and tipped her exuberant fragrance into the air?
Since time immemorial, peonies have been cherished by people of all cultures. The name ‘peony’ actually derives from the Greek name ‘Paeon’, meaning “the healing.” Paeon was a physician to the gods, who discovered the plant’s medicinal properties. In fact, for centuries, peonies have been cultivated for both medicinal and horticultural uses. They have a distinct history in the gardens of China, Japan, Europe, and North America. Honestly, it always amazes me to think that peonies, despite their short-lived fleeting blooms, hold a history as long as our own — longer in fact. They never fail to inspire me, you, or our ancestors hundreds of years ago, as if every petal has as story to tell of times gone by.
Generally speaking, peonies fall into four groups based on their use: herbaceous peonies (Paeonia officinalis and Paeonia lactiflora), tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa), intersectional peonies (Paeonia Itoh), and Woodland peonies (Paeonia japonica). Herbaceous peonies are more common in Europe and Northern America, while tree peonies are more widely grown across Asia. Their hybrids, Itoh peonies, have the best of both worlds. They possess the range of colors available for herbaceous peonies and the flares (contrasting color markings at the petal base) characteristic of tree peonies. Woodland peonies aren’t as popular, but are just as pretty. They have the added value of loving shade.
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is home to 89 peony cultivars, 12 of which are tree peonies. If you plan to visit this month, look out for these dazzling darlings at the Asian Valley, Flagler Garden, and Grace Arents Garden. Later in April look for the more unusual yellow peonies, you’ll find them blooming in the upper Asian Valley.
For all peony enthusiasts out there, these coming weeks should be the perfect time to visit us here at the Garden. You can watch the Garden bursting with peonies, take a lot of nice photos, and participate in our A Millions Bloom Instagram Contest too!