Many years ago I worked with Elaine, a production manager at a trade publisher in New York, persuading her that she really needed to buy my freelance book design and typesetting services. Once we’d dispensed with business (it took less than five minutes and she always gave me a sale!) we talked flowers and gardens. We would wander down Third Avenue, discussing how challenging it was to grow delphiniums in New England, and then explore the merits of organic fertilizer over lunch at a Chinese restaurant we called “Ooo Flung Dung” (because we could never remember its name) that served the most amazing sesame chicken and broccoli.
When Elaine retired in the mid-1980s, she drove to my home on the Connecticut shoreline to deliver plants she (1) knew I would love, (2) that would grow in my sandy garden, and (3) that she could not take to Florida where she and her husband were going. I remember the euphorbia Elaine gave me that I’d never heard of before and a couple of others that I cannot now recall, but what stands out is the peony.
Elaine had brought two—one for me and one for an elderly friend who lived several miles north of my town and that Elaine wanted me to deliver.
That evening after Elaine left, I planted my peony and the next morning I stuffed the other peony into my car. I would deliver it to Elaine’s friend after work. Except it was wickedly hot and by the time I got back to my car at 5:00 pm, the friend’s peony was totally fried.
Cue much panic and several bad words.
There was only one thing to do. I drove home like a mad woman, shed my work clothes, and grabbed a shovel. I dug up my peony, replaced it with the dead peony, and drove my (aka, the live) peony to Elaine’s friend. She was thrilled to bits.
But to my surprise (and huge relief) the dead peony survived. The next year it came roaring back with plenty of shoots and leaves. However, it has never bloomed. Had I planted it too deep? Too shallow? In the wrong place? Much research followed. Then a teenage garden helper chopped it to ground level (my bad for not supervising). Despite all this abuse, the peony survived, but it still refused to bloom.
I was too embarrassed to share this with Elaine and eventually we lost touch, but I really cared about her peony. It was a gift, a precious memory that covered several decades, and I was determined not to let it go. Five years ago, I relocated the peony. Again, it produced vigorous leaves but no blossoms.
Until this year.
After all these years, I never even knew what color it was ... until now. What a perfectly wonderful moment this has been.
Maggie Dana is an avid gardener, and a well-known author of the Timber Ridge series of horse stories. Visit her Facebook Page.