Saturday, 4 June 2011

Ode to the Peony - Die Pfingstrose

This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart 
as the sun rises,
as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers
and they open - pools of lace - white and pink

and all day the black ants climb over them,
boring their deep and mysterious holes into the curls,
craving the sweet sap, taking it away
to their dark, underground cities -

and all day under the shifty wind,
as in a dance to the great wedding,
the flowers bend their bright bodies,
and tip their fragrance to the air, and rise,
their red stems holding all that dampness 
and recklessness gladly and lightly,
and there it is again - beauty the brave, the exemplary, blazing open.

Do you love this world?
Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?
Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden,
and softly,
and exclaiming of their dearness,
fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,
with their honeyed heaviness,
their lush trembling, 
their eagerness
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are nothing, forever?
by Mary Oliver

Portrait of peony by Chinese artist Yun Shouping, 17th century

The history of peonies as symbols of beauty and remembrance spans more than 2000 years

The Greeks had - of course - a myth about them,
and named them after Paeon, a student of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and healing.
Asclepius became jealous of his pupil;
Zeus saved Paeon from the wrath of Asclepius by turning him into the peony flower.

Paeonia lactiflora 'Marie Crousse' (1)

Tree peony (Paeonia suffruticosa) and herbaceous peony (Paeonia lactiflora),
both are the most beautiful and charming flowers and have prestigious reign in the flower world.

Tree peony - La Pouyette

The Tree Peony is known as "the King of Flower" for being elegant
and its national beauty and heavenly fragrance,
and is regarded as the symbol flower in China.

 Tree Peony at La Pouyette

Tree peony 'Duchesse de Morny'  (2)
one of the oldest tree peonies in Europe

The herbaceous peony (lactiflora) is called the "Queen of flowers"

Paeonia lactiflora 'Moonstone'  (3)

The tree peony has been the favourit flower from the imperial down to the common 
for more than 1500 years in Chinese history; whereas the cultivation history
of the herbaceous peony can go back to 2500 years ago.

It was not however until the seventh century, during the reign
of the Emperor Yang (605-617) of the Sui dynasty,
that peonies were thought to have been grown as ornamental plants.
During the T'ang dynasty that followed (618-906) peonies supposedly became 
very popular in the imperial gardens and they were put under imperial protection.
The best varieties commanded huge prices and peonies were often part of a dowry settlement.

Then during the Sung dynasty (960-1279), which began at the end of the tenth century,
peonies had spread throughout China and the Sung capital of Louyang
became a centre for peony culture.

In this gold-engraved lacquer ware food tray from the Sung Dynasty,
the two long-tailed birds represent longevity 
and the peony seen at the top center represents prosperity

Paeonia suffruticosa 'Colette Thurillet'  (4)

Chinese horticulturists were the first peony breeders and their work lead to the
introduction of many huge, double flowered tree and herbaceous peonies.
It is believed that during the 12th century, Chinese horticulturist began
using grafting techniques to reproduce valued cultivars.
"Peonies in a French Garden" - La Pouyette

see also post from Trish... here

Japanese 'Honor', a single flowered herbaceous peony - La Pouyette


'Festiva Maxima Miellez 1853'  -  La Pouyette

"Peonies in a Californian Garden"
Trish - Trouvais

'In Waiting'

'While it's Raining'... here

and...  here

Both the tree peonies and herbaceous peonies were introduced into Japan 
at the beginning of the 8th century, Japanese horticulturists began to work with them,
 simplified the flowers and produced lighter, less complicated flower heads.
The Japanese also began incorporating images of the peony into their paintings,
porcelains, tapestries and fabrics. The peony was also the subject of many poems
and frequently figured in Japanese literature.

 Japanese traditional 'fukuro' sash belt - OBI, early 1930's

"Peonies in an American Garden"
Ann - plumsiena

here   'In Lavender and Pink' post May 27,2011

 and.... here
Peony 'Coral charm'

Paonia lactiflora ' Vivid Rose'  (5)

The peony is the national flower of China 
and is often referred to in poetry and literature.

Peony, by Chinese artist Wang Qian, Yuan Dynasty (1271-1386)

As one of the main motifs of Chinese decorative arts the peonies can be found
on porcelains, in woodblock and screen paintings as well as embroidered onto tapestries and clothing.
It became important to have it prominently displayed on emperors silk.

Now in modern times in European fabrics like...
De-Gourney-Chinoiserie's  "Askew" - Colefax & Fowler
Silk "Chelsea" - also from Colefax & Fowler


 silk from the mid 1980's  -  from my vintage fabric collection
again with the long-tailed bird representing longevity

The beauty of the peony flower has long inspired artists
in both the eastern and western parts of the world.
here on a 19th century English MINTON coffee cup and saucer
"Peonies in a Belgium Garden"
Jerôme - Ma Maison de Lin

'Enfin - les Pivoines souvrent dans mon jardin.....'
see.... here

Since the early middle ages the Peaonia officinalis found its home
in mainly South-German monastery and farmers garden,
therefore called "Bauernrose" (farmers rose). 
It became a "must" in every traditional farmer garden.

Peaonia officinalis 'Rubra Plena'  -  at La Pouyette

Because of  (under 'normal' weather condition)  its flowering season around Whitsun,
the common name for the peony in German is "Pfingstrose" (Whitsun rose).

Paeonia mascula  - "Corallen-Bauernrose"
appreciated since the classical antiquity as a medicinal plant.

in a German farmers garden - 'Auguste Dessert' and 'Sarah Bernhardt'  (Country 2010)

Peonies in a "hortus conclusus" - enclosed garden
Das Paradiesgaertlein  (Little Garden of Paradise)
by an Upper Rhenish Master, 1410-20

The denomination Upper Rhenish Master refers to an unknown artist active ca. 1410-20,
possibly in Strasbourg.  This most famous painting of the artist is now 
in the Staedel Museum in Frankfurt and is the Staedel's most famous example of the old German school.
(a shrub of peonies can be clearly seen at the bottom-center of the painting)

"A Happy Partnership in a German Farmers Garden"
Paeonia 'Festiva Maxima' and 'Auguste Dessert'
together with Allium 'Globemaster' and 'Geranium magnificum' (Storchschnabel)
(Garten & Wohnen 2005)

A few 'cool' colors:

Paeonia rockii

Japanese Paeonia lactiflora 'Jan van Leeuwen'
at the Chelsea Flower Show  (German Country 2010)

"A Peony with an Ant"

"A Peony with a Bee" 
 and "Beatles heaven" at La Pouyette
"Immortal all-year-round Peonies"

 in silk

perfect for all kind of decorative 'displays' .....with leaves, 'real' flowers, and...and

and "grand"...
Why do we all love the peonies?
Apart from their beauty, 
it could be their short flowering season which makes them so precious.
We are exited each year while awaiting their full magnificence in our gardens!

Oh - the Peonies, the Peonies....

 images 1,2,3,4,5 from this book

This became a very long 'Ode' indeed!

but - it all began with the peonies...   here
encore merci Trish!

Best wishes for a lovely Whitsun weekend to all of you
Frohe Pfingsten!

By the way....
The peony is probably the only flower to have a country named after it:
Paeonia, in Greece, conquered during the Persian Wars.
 the peony is the state flower of Indiana, US
 Indiana has had a long, tumultuous history regarding state flowers,
beginning with the adoption of the carnation by Concurrent Resolution in 1913....
In 1957, the Indiana General Assembly took up the issue of an official state flower again.
Read more.....Indiana State Flower


  1. Karin! I have gone through this post three times...and added it as a link update to mine (so I can get back to it easily to drool!). So that poem. Grateful for digital cameras so we can treasure and share their fleeting beauty all year round. Feel like a vintner "yes...2009 was a very good year!" Have a wonderful weekend my friend! XO Trish

  2. Wow!!!! I am on peony overload right now...what a spectacular post!!!! I love peonies and just this morning cut some of my own and put them in small arrangements. They are such a beautiful and graceful flower. And that fabric from your vintage fabric collection took my breath away, just fabulous!

  3. It feels like 'two souls and one thought' Trish.
    Wrote this post probably at the same time like you wrote your today's one!
    And I think that the poem is very much 'us'!
    Then, 2009 - a very good year for both of our tree peonies, 2010 was brilliant for the white 'Festiva Maxima' which had only three! flowers this year. But - 2011 very good for the single flowered Japanese one. Well, here we are.....very much like wine.
    Thanks so much for the link!

  4. Such a beautiful post, Karin! And well-researched, well thought out.

    I was researching tree peonies myself today and came across this description to go along with your own:
    "Tree peonies represent good fortune, love and prosperity, and are considered the essence of the Yin (female) element in nature. The plant itself is considered male, thus it has supreme unity in both the male and female elements."

    No wonder we love them so!

  5. Ahhhhh, this is a truly beautiful post and thank you for the time it must have taken to present it! Karin, I'd love to place a link on my sidebar if I may?

    Alas, I don't have any peonies in my garden!

    Cheers from Oz,

  6. Thank you, Karin, for the wonderful information on the most gorgeous flower on the planet. Your photos, along with Trish's, will keep me visually nourished for another year! I remember the first time I saw peonies. I was entering the large lobby of the Williamsburg Inn, Williamsburg, Virginia. Immediately, I was overwhelmed by the air of the sweetest and most complex perfume and exquisite blooms in the largest Chinese Export Porcelain Bowl I had ever seen. The blooms were white, magnificent colors of pink and red, apricot and soft yellow. I will never forget that experience. Breathe taking!

  7. Dear Karin!
    A very impressing, informing and just lovely post!

    Bei uns ist Sommer pur!
    Mal sehn wie das so weitergeht.
    Gestern allerdings hatten wir nachmittags einen Gewittersturm, der einen Ast heruntergerissen, einen Sonnenschirm zerlegt, einen Rosenstock umgeknickt hat ...

    Na ja

    Abends haben wir dann aber doch draußen den Geburtstag meines Sohnes feiern können.

    Liebe Grüße nach Westen!

  8. Alaine,
    I'm pleased that you like this post.
    And please, feel free to place a link! Thank you in advance!
    A tres bientôt und Greetings to Australia,

  9. Hello Christine,
    Thank you for your lovely comment. Welcome to the "club of peony-lovers"!
    Greetings, karin

  10. Hello Ann,
    I know about the 'male and female' elements, have the info in my files but forgotten to mention it in my post.
    So, thank you very much for "adding"! We cannot have enough information about these Beautie's!

  11. Peonies are my favorite flowers

  12. Wow Karin you have really outdone yourself with this post it’s fabulous. I love the poem really beautiful but your peonies they’re so wonderful!! Just imagine having a piece of vintage fabric with peonies and of course you have it, fabulous too! My peonies are still tight buds but they’re almost ready to bloom and I can’t wait I just wish they would last longer. Loved this post and all the information and you even knew it was the state flower for Indiana, too funny!

  13. Karin you have created a magnificent post about the beautiful peony. The poem is lovely and your peonies our gorgeous. I have also posted about peonies. The peonies in my garden are not all open yet this year so I supplement with blooms from the farmers market. How fortunate you have such beautiful vintage fabric, as well. This is a gorgeous post and I thank you for sharing all the beauty and information. I am over from the lovely Trouvais and I am a new follower.

  14. Karin, as usual you have made my day. Beautiful poem and images. I would love to have peonies in my garden.

  15. What a beautiful post!! Oh I so love peonies!We planted a few of them as the Sarah Bernhardt and the Maxima Festiva in our garden!
    I so enjoyed this post Karin!! And interesting to read about that country name Paeonia in Greece! I didn't heard about it!!
    I wish you a wonderful week!

  16. Hello Karin,

    You make my day! beatiful and interesting blogspot. My peonies are gone after the storm of this evening :-(.And i love specialy the pic of the blog Maison de lin :D

    Greetings and hugs from Belgium

  17. Ok They are my absolute favorite flowers... AND this was the most fabulous post I ever have seen on them..... I love the way you do your homework and show the old pictures......And I did not know about the Greek mythology associated with that........It kills me that i cannot grow then here in this climate.....I must tell you some of those beetles look like they are having "too much fun" in those flowers.......HAHA!Thanks!Maryanne xo

  18. Dear Karin, Your post is absolutely beautiful and so are your Peonies. I love the Tree Peony, and have tried growing a few. So far they have always winter killed. We do grow the more common one here in Utah and they do smell maybe I have to be happy with those.
    Thank you for publishing this well researched and very interesting post.

  19. Wonderful posting!!!! peonies are sooo great!!!!

  20. Karin, you are a marvelous teacher. From the many things you taught me about tables to this lesson on peonies...I am inspired by you!


  21. Great compliment and much appreciated, Linsey!
    Thank you very much.

  22. Have just ran across this page, after being inspired to look at peonies by a very dear friend... how lovely, and thank you for that poem :)