Sunday, June 04, 2006

Peony in a suitcase

Five or six years ago, when my mother asked me what she could bring during her annual trip up north from Maryland, I replied that I would really like to have a division from one of the peonies lining her driveway. She had tended a row of seven or eight peonies during her forty-five years in that Chevy Chase house, and I loved watching as every spring the maroon peony stalks emerged, their deep red foliage turned green, and shell pink blossoms erupted from their tight round buds.

After not a small amount of badgering, my mother reluctantly agreed to bring up a division. She packed it carefully in a hard-sided suitcase and checked it as luggage on her flight north. The day after her arrival, she planted the peony in my garden. Her gardening skill was unerring: the peony was blooming the next year and still holds pride of place.

Every spring, I dust with a copper fungicide when the stalks are about three inches high, claw in a handful of bonemeal and 1/4 cup of 10-10-10 around the roots, and stake with a metal ring support. After the foliage dies in the fall, I trim the stems back to about 1 inch and fertilize with more bonemeal.

Last spring, before my mother sold her house, I asked my older brother to take some more peonies. He transplanted several clumps into his Laurel yard. In late July, I stopped there to collect a few during the long drive back north after my mother's memorial service and burial in Virginia. After being twice moved in six months, they looked pretty miserable by the end of the summer. However, this spring, the familiar maroon stalks emerged. A blessing and a gift.

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