PEONIES

.PEONIES
BY DEBRA CHMELINA 2009
ACRYLIC ON CANVAS
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Information about peony plants

Often, when we see pictures of huge, beautiful flowers in books, we assume they come from the tropics. Happily, Mother Nature made an exception with peony plants. Cold hardy to zone 2, deep in the frozen North, peony flowers needn't take a backseat to any tropical bloom.

Nor have people failed to notice the exceptional nature of this flower. For hundreds of years, long before garden catalogs, from one corner of the globe to another, peony plants have been grown and admired. In China, they were even prized for their medicinal qualities. E.g., white peony root was used to treat liver problems. The Greeks and Romans also found medicinal uses for peonies. However, in excessive doses, all parts of peony plants are toxic.

As is fitting for such a lovely flower, peony plants derive their name from a Greek myth. Paeon, a student under Aesculapius, god of medicine, was well aware of the medicinal qualities of peony plants. He used them to heal a wound suffered by the god, Pluto. The upstaged Aesculapius wasn't pleased and threatened retribution, but, in one of those charming metamorphoses sprinkled liberally throughout the pages of Greek mythology, Pluto saved Paeon's life: he turned him into a peony plant.

If possible, try to grow peony plants near entrances, where their fragrance can be most readily enjoyed. While their blooming period is tantalizingly short, even the foliage of peony plants is sufficiently attractive to warrant planting in a cozy corner near the doorstep. The peony plants with double flowers tend to be the most fragrant. To extend the blooming season, "stagger" your selection of varieties. That is, select some that bloom early, others late, and still others that bloom sometime in between.

As if stunning beauty and heady fragrance weren't enough, peony plants are also exceedingly long-lived. Peony plants are unlike many other perennials, in that they do not need to be divided on a regular basis. In fact, they dislike being disturbed. If you'd still like to try dividing them (to increase your stock), do so in fall.

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