Peony Hangs its Heavy Head.
Peonies are kind of like bulldogs; their heads are too big for their bodies. The odd charm and appeal of a bulldog is its massive, oversized skull and gaping maw of a mouth, surrounded by folds of excess skin to complete the strange design of the creature. Did you know that bulldog puppies, due to their inbred, disproportionate skull-size, must be birthed by a Caesarian-section? (I read that somewhere once; not sure if it’s true, but it makes sense…)
Peonies are are beautiful and appealing for much the same reason — their huge heads! I’m talking about the peony’s big, round, lush, heavy, many-petaled blooms (heads) and their strong-for-their-size but not-strong-enough-to-hold-their-heads-up stalks (bodies).
Were peonies bred that way by some group of overzealous, mad florists trying to maximize flower size and weight, without thinking to equally (or sufficiently) maximize the thickness and strength of the stalks? Kind of what they did with bulldogs, if you get my drift. They are both top-heavy living things (one fauna, one flora), but at least bulldogs have that “bulldog stance” low to the ground, so they don’t look as if they might fall over. Peonies don’t…
Before I waste any more time comparing a flower to a dog, let’s talk about how peonies grow and become so big-headed. They start popping up from their bulb-roots in late April or early May (in my NE US region) and grow quickly to a height of 2-3 feet (60-90 cm) with a spread of 3-4 feet (90-120 cm). The stalks are slender, firm, and strong, with several branches and bunches of almond-shaped leaves radiating around each stalk.
As the peony reaches its mature height, the stalk continues growing 12-18″ (30-45 cm) more and terminates in a tightly-layered round bud about 1-2″ (3-5 cm) in diameter. Each bud swells larger until it opens and the petals grow to full size. After the buds burst, the petals become quite large, making the peony’s blossom “head” very top-heavy, bending the stalk in a groundward curve. The heavy blossoms end up resting on the peony’s lower leaves, on nearby plants, fences, or bend the stalk all the way down, until their heads rest on the ground.
There are three options when peonies hang their heavy heads:
- Do nothing and let their heads hang until dead (end of season),
- Stake them up like a good, loving gardener (if you have time and patience),
- Cut off their heads (and burgeoning buds) to enjoy their visual and olfactory beauty inside your home!
We prefer Option #3 for all the obvious reasons — peonies are lovely to look at and they smell wonderful — but this year we missed one bud! We noticed this one Last Peony blossom and decided to let it hang its head and fall apart peacefully as summer rolls along…
The Last Peony / Edits & Variations:
Yikes! I really wrote a lot about peonies in this post, even though this is not a gardening blog! I guess that once I started on the bulldog parallels, I was doomed, and there was no turning back until I had given all the background info… LOL
Camera: iPhone 13 Pro Max
Editing: Hipstamatic app
Photographer: Russ Murray aka “remages”
Location: Somewhere in Stamford, CT
See you tomorrow…