The Way I See Things


Peony bud

Thanks to all of you who said kind things yesterday - your nice thoughts are much appreciated! I got up this morning coughing and sneezing, and feeling as though some unfriendly elf spent last night sandpapering the back of my nose and throat. People who know me well enough to have seen me be pretty stoical about actual, proper illness are probably surprised by the outrageous fuss I make over a cold: I turn into a miserable, whining princess, demanding bottomless hot drinks and sympathy, and generally being a total pain. Even though this is behaviour that I despise, I don't seem able to prevent myself from indulging in it - the best I can do is to acknowledge that I know it's happening, and promise that within the next week or so I will get a grip and man up.

So - today's blip. This peony belonged to my grandmother, and must be at least 60 years old. When her house was sold my mother adopted it and took it home - but you can't plant a peony in the middle of a Sheffield winter, so it sat wrapped in newspaper in an increasingly soggy cardboard box until the spring; at which point she planted it, and to everyone's surprise it thrived. Every time my parents moved house the peony went with them, until my mother's final house move in November 2010 - at which point she entrusted it to me.

The winter of 2010 was the worst in Worcestershire since 1940-something - not Canada-awful, or even as bad as it's been this year in New England - but it was -16° for weeks, and you can't plant a peony in that. So it was left (you're ahead of me here, I can feel it) wrapped in newspaper, in a cardboard box, in a reasonably sheltered part of the garden, until....

Six months later I remembered it, peeled open the collapsed cardboard box and discovered that the peony was dead. I was mortified of course, but there was nothing to be done, so I threw it on the compost heap and told my mother that I'd killed it. She was surprisingly understanding. A couple of weeks later I went to put some weeds on the compost heap and spotted peony leaves... so I quickly split the clump into two pieces, jammed them into the only two readily available bits of soil I could find in a garden that was then horribly overgrown - and hoped for the best. Four years on, this piece is looking pretty good, and the other one is just about hanging in there.

To say that I had an emotional reaction when I spotted this bud yesterday would be an understatement. It is such a triumph of life and hope over neglect, that I feel as though I've just been given a precious gift. The buds have been known to shrivel, but this looks promising, and if it opens I'll certainly blip the flower. As you can see it's not one of those delicate, peachy cultivars - it's an old-fashioned cottage garden peony, with blowsy, vivid cerise blooms. I so wish that I could ask my grandmother where she got it from originally - where did ordinary working people go to obtain plants in the days before garden centres? I guess that it probably came from a friend or relative dividing one of their plants - in which case it could easily be a century or more old, which is a remarkable thought!

On a less inspiring note, the beastly slugs have been at my hostas - I didn't see that damage till I was down at ground level with a macro set-up. I've sprayed them with garlic, and I'll let you know if it works. Both shots were taken with a 21mm extension tube on a 50mm lens.

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