Cottage garden

In the late spring, I always know when there's going to be a change in the weather. We get a week of brilliant sunshine and the peony buds swell before my eyes. I count the buds, and the anticipation is almost more than I can stand.

And just as those gorgeous flower heads grow heavy and start to open up, the weather changes. The warm, sunny days turn cloudy, and a big storm blows in from the coast, and it rains. It pours down rain. And it always has, as long as I've had peonies in the garden.

The rain collects in those gorgeous flower heads, and they slowly sink to the ground. I shake them off, and stake the plants, but usually I just start cutting them and bringing them inside to dry off and finish opening up.

A lot of my favorite perennials come into bloom with the peonies: bluebells, white and blue speedwell, purple iris and columbine. I stuff vases with flowers and sprigs of lemon balm, and the scent fills the house.

My oldest peonies are more than 20 years old, and each year they produce more and more buds. Fairy's Petticoat grows in a border by the patio. It's a beautiful pale pink with extravant fragrance, with huge blooms that slowly turn white. Nick Shaylor grows in a corner by the garage, where I pass by every day. Its pink blooms start out with red edges, then slowly fade to a soft pink. It has 34 buds on it this year, a new record.

I love everything about peonies. The wonderful fragrance. The way they open slowly, from tight little buds an inch across, into huge, extravagant blooms.

Kansas was a slow starter; it had one or two blooms for years, until we had to take out a huge fir tree that shaded the garden for much of the day. The next year, it had six blooms, and this year there are more than a dozen. I love the bright carmine red of this peony.

This is my favorite part of the cottage garden, which has been neglected so far this year. But the foxglove and the speedwell and the iris are in bloom, the bright orange poppies will bloom for another month, and there's still a carpet of forget-me-not's. (And if you look closely, you'll see a couple of stray blackberry vines; every time I cut them out, they're back within a week. I swear!)

My only peony failure is that I planted into a big pot, and it has never bloomed. I don't even remember the variety or color. I know that peonies hate to be transplanted, but I think it's time to take desperate measures! Maybe I'll get lucky, and it will finally bloom.

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