Missing the Seasons and Especially Peonies

| February 7, 2021 | 0 Comments

Although I have lived in California almost 70 of my 80 years, I am a native Californian and have been a San Diego homeowner since March of 1968.  Nevertheless, from 1942 until 1953 I lived in the Midwest:  Ohio and Michigan where it may snow as early as late October; I do remember snowstorms in May.  Of course, a child is not forced to drive in the snow.  Walking in it is fun.  In fact, each season has great attractions. 

In summer the heat and humidity bring rainstorms, which are fun to play in.  On sunny days, climbing trees, building forts, trying to fry eggs on the sidewalk, or sailing on small lakes are great summer activities.  Even cutting the grass (pre-motorized lawn mowers) was fun and smelled divine, as did the various species of flowers, which bloomed profusely from spring until late autumn.  We could even grow some vegetables during our relatively short growing season,

Fall meant eating apples straight from the trees; the sugar maples’ leaves turned red; the oaks’ leaves turned yellow, and there was an entire palette of color on which to feast your eyes until the frost stripped the trees and left pencil drawings of branches set against the sky.  At this point, the last of the fall flowers froze and died, creating skeletons in the garden until the winter snows cloaked them in white. 

Winters involved the neighborhood kids.  We frooze the street and driveways before the water in the hoses’ froze. (This did NOT please our parents who drove home only to skid off the street or driveway onto someone else’s property!)  We skated in the street or skated on the nearby lake, which was on our way home.  The fire department’s station was on the lake.  The firemen plowed an arena so we could skate and play games like Rover, Red Rover, Red Rover, Come Over and Crack the Whip.  Not only did the Fire Department clear a good skating rink for us, we could also call them to find out how thick and how smooth the lake’s ice was. 

They let us leave our books, boots and shoes at the station after we had put on our skates before going out to skate, knowing our stuff would be safe until we returned.  Each year the firemen also provided a wooden walkway from the station to the dock to protect our skates from the concrete.  We could skate across the lake and back and maybe have time for a quick game of Crack the Whip before we had to head home.  The scariest part of lake skating was avoiding holes made by ice fishermen.  Once in a while we could hitch a ride on an iceboat.

Spring brought green buds, and charming flowers.  Tulips and daffodils naturalized as did iris and a host of other perennials.  Pussy willows dropped their fuzzy bumps and sprouted leaves.  Apple trees turned into magic castles of white flowers, great for pretending to be a princess in a tall tower amid all the blossoms and marvelous scent, Forsythia and lilac gave bursts of bright yellow and purple and added to the general perfume of the air. But the flower I loved best came in late spring: the peony. 

The peony may be found on a tree, but the ones I remember grew on a bush with long stems ending in an enormous fluffy bloom: white, pink, deep pink, red, and even yellow (although I have never seen a yellow peony). Some have just a layer or two of blossoms around a yellow center.  The favorites look like the skirt of a doll with myriad lacy petticoats holding her skirt away from her body.  These peonies are many layered and large.  Their stems must be sturdy to bear their weight.  If we picked them for our mothers, we were sent to take them outside and remove all the ants, which love the nectar that collects on the buds.  We were told that without ants’ presence, buds wouldn’t open.  (This is not true.)

Costco sells peony bulbs every winter.  For many years I firmly believed they were designed for San Diego; why sell them here if they wouldn’t bloom?  I tried planting them several years, but mostly nothing happened.  One year, I refrigerated the bulbs for a few months.  If it works for tulips, why wouldn’t it work for peonies?  The answer is it doesn’t.  I even tried dumping ice on the planting spot every morning, but the plants were not fooled.  Twice I grew a bush with some leaves, and one of those years two tiny buds appeared.  One actually opened half-heartedly; the other remained tightly closed.

This year I heard that a species called Itoh blooms in San Diego.  Toni Palafox of Mission Hills Nursery told me it was probably a waste of money.  A woman at Walter Anderson’s said if I had a huge disposable income, I could order blooming plants.  Any peony needs a few years to really get established and produce the flowers I long for.  The ones I’d pay a fortune for would only last one blooming season, and probably never to bloom again, therefore, not a wise purchase.

Trader Joe’s carried peony stems early this year.  COVID-19 depression convinced me I deserve peonies.  Thus, I purchased three bunches (expensive for five stems) but of each bunch only two buds opened.  I didn’t get them ants, but following another theory, I did let them rest in warm water twice.  I peeled a couple of stubborn buds, but they remained tight and uncooperative. 

So, I am reduced to continuing to erase my prejudices against succulents and to revel in the strange colors and shapes they produce.  It’s not the same, but it’s what there is.  I need to focus on the beauty of nature’s diversity and on plants that thrive in our environment.  After all, nature knows better than I.  I’ll have to abandon my prejudices and live with reality.

The February 25 meeting of the Mission Hills Garden Club presents Adams Graves, who has spent the last five years as the director of the San Diego Zoo Horticultural Department.

Peony plants offer an incredible bloom of flowers that are enormous and full of color and texture.

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Category: Gardening, Local News, Nonprofit

About the Author ()

Barbara Strona is a native Californian who grew up in the Mid-West and Los Angeles. She and her architect husband, Carl, came to San Diego in 1968 and have lived in Mission Hills since early 1971. Barbara received a Bachelor of Arts from Scripps College with a major in English, and a minor in Art. She attended UCLA graduate school and received a General Secondary Credential. She taught English in Los Angeles, Pennsylvania, and at Point Loma High School. She has been a Realtor specializing in residential sales since 1984. Her passions include her job, reading, writing, foreign languages and foreign countries, animals (feathered or furry), theatre, and her family: husband, two adult children and two grandsons.