History’s Peony: A Search & Rescue

Small pleasures must correct great tragedies,
Therefore of gardens in the midst of war
I boldly tell…

-Vita Sackville-West
The Garden; 1946

In this little beloved town of mine some take pleasure in knocking down the very old homes and building instead new homes of fiberglass and vinyl.   One of these very old homes, which was a rental property, had a clump of the most unique peonies I had ever seen.  They were pink with very few petals and a bright yellow center.  I regret I do not have a picture.  They sat sunning themselves by the porch stoop.  There were many flowers as the plant had to be very old.

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I’ve been told that the house was the general store for the neighborhood a hundred years ago.  Perhaps the store owner himself planted the peonies for his wife or wanted his customers to have a pleasant sight as they approached the store for their sundry goods.

Well, yesterday they knocked the house down; front stoop and all.  Imagine my horror as I listened to the demo trucks rolling over earth and concrete, not knowing the fate of those peonies!   When supper came and the bulldozers ceased.  I went over and surveyed the damage.

Everything was destroyed.  The grass and all the Hostas had been tossed about- landing willy-nilly all over the property.   But, alas remnants of the front stoop remained, and I knew under the earth next to that spot, the tubers might still be hiding.

From reading Vita’s many posts about peonies I know that the tubers should not be buried too deep.  So with a shovel, I sifted through the dirt carefully as if I was searching for the most delicate and rare fossil.  After about fifteen minutes my shovel scraped a single tuber, then another.  With the gentlest touch I brushed and dug to release the rest, and finally pulled up the most gnarly looking group of them I had ever seen.  I imagined the neighbor’s celebrating from their windows (Mrs. Kravitz from Bewitched) as they finally realized what I was up to.

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Pictured above: A small portion of what I uncovered

My purpose would have been easily recognized from a distance, as this thing was about a foot and a half in circumference and twisted into many other tubers of varied sizes.  Talking to several neighbors, it seems these peonies were most coveted throughout the hood (don’t call it that), and some were kicking themselves for not saving the flowers before demolition began.  I separated most of the tubers and passed them around while I listened to their words of regret.

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In the midst of war between the historical and the modern, these flowers were spared.  Hopefully, they will produce their fragrant blooms of nostalgia once more.
We won’t know for sure until next year, but if these plants flourish they will be cherished by me all the more, for their journey was difficult and traumatizing.  I don’t know if any of the nutrients and energy remain for them to make it, but I have tried to give them a second life.  We can only wait and see if my efforts will flourish in the years to come.

Thank you for reading!

Please speak up if you’ve ever performed a “search and rescue” with plants.  Did they survive?  Thank you for your feedback.

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7 thoughts on “History’s Peony: A Search & Rescue

  1. It’s such a heart touching episode! Very generous of you to rescue the tubers, the sole remnants of the beautiful plant. I wish they blossom and we all can celebrate their afterlife 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Demolitions of old houses are common where I live too. I also wonder about gardens and plants that perish in the process; I doubt that anyone tries to salvage them. Good for you for rescuing the peony. They are tough and enduring, so it may grow again. I hope so.

    Liked by 1 person

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