The Nostalgia of Peonies
Peonies are very much part of our cottage garden here at The Lint Mill and they were among the first plants we put in the ground when we arrived. This year the peonies started poking through the soil in March, the stems and leaves a rich burgundy red, before starting to unfurl and change to their more familiar verdant green. Then the buds began to swell, reaching the size of a walnut before bursting into this week’s blowsy bloom.
They have been grown in Britain for many centuries. In medieval monastic gardens they were an important medicinal plant and were probably introduced by the Romans. The name comes from ‘Paeon’, the god of healing, and the roots, flowers and seeds were used to treat epilepsy and all kinds of nervous afflictions.
They are the sort of flowers that induce a kind of nostalgia for an intensely personal and yet shared past. My memories of the voluptuous peony rose are from my childhood in my Nana’s garden in South Shields. It was full of rich, red, graceful peonies. They had been planted years before by my Grandad who died when I was just six months old, but his peonies thrived, an evocative reminder of the garden he once tended and the skilful gardener my Nana always said he was.
Peonies can last for years – a century is not uncommon – and I hope the peonies are still going strong at 9 South Close, even though my Nana too is long gone.
The Lint Mill peonies seem to like it here and are blooming graciously, despite taking a bit of a battering in the wettest June weather since 1910. I hope they’ll be here long after we too have gone.