One of the reasons I love peonies is because of their meaning – to wish someone well. The name peony comes from the Greek mythical character – Paeon, who was a student of Aesculapius, a Greek God of medicine and healing. In ancient times, peonies were used for medicinal purposes including curing headaches, relieving pain during childbirth and the treatment of asthma. Not only do they have this healing side to their story they are also regarded as a symbol of good fortune and happy marriage.
The early explorer Marco Polo is said to have called peonies “roses as big as cabbages” which is indeed true when the large ones span to 10 inches wide.
There are three groups of peonies (pronounced pee-oh-nee): Herbaceous, woody/tree and hybrids.
No matter your flower preference, there is certainly a peony to suit any style. How could they not with 38 – 50 species with over 320 different varieties (I may not be able to get my hands on all 320 at the market but I certainly try). I am also told they come in every colour except blue.
In China, the peony is a prized flower, often seen as a symbol of wealth and distinction. Peonies are often found in Chinese paintings and medicine and there is even a Chinese opera called the ‘Peony Pavilion’ which is a moving love story.
They always kick off the season with a couple of short weeks of the coral’s which then give way to the pinks, whites and creams. Different styles of red have their turn at featuring thought the 6 week season. It must be the fact these beauties are only available for such a short space of time that make them all the more desirable… I have to have them while they are here and then it’s farewell my fair friend, until next year.
To care for your peonies:
Place the vase in a cool location out of direct sun. To open flowers faster place them in warm water in a warm room.
To slow the progress place them in a darker cooler room and add ice to the water.
I’m sure we have all had the odd stubborn peony that will not open, this is often a sign that the flower was picked just a little too early. To encourage them to open if they haven’t on their own, take the tightly budded flowers and put them head-down into a sink full of hot/warm water for about five minutes. Pop them back in their vase and give it a few hours and they’ll open just fine 9 times out of ten!!