I once saw peonies referred to as "Marilyn Monroe on a stem" and while that's a bit of a stretch, you have to admit they're pretty damn luscious. Only thing is, every time I pass ours by in the yard, they are covered and I mean COVERED in ants! I've been tempted to shake them off, but decided to do a little research first, and it turns out peonies secrete a waxy nectar that is quite delectable for ants, especially before they bloom. No harm no foul, right? Sounds like a pretty neutral relationship. BUT! (And this is kind of a controversial theory, I mean, as controversial as flower theories go): Some people believe that ants and peonies have a symbiotic relationship and that without the ant's assistance, the multiple-layered peony will not be able to open. Unlikely, but it's fun to imagine all those little ants working tirelessly to pry apart each petal to reveal one big voluptuous bloom.
Cute little peony story from last weekend: We were sitting on our patio when our precocious seven-year-old neighbor Lucy came bouncing across the lawn with a big fat, hot pink peony in her hand (shown). "This is for you," she said, dropping the enormous bloom into Theo's hands, adding, "It smells good." T brought the flower up to his nose and kept it there. I told her our peonies hadn't yet bloomed but that they were close. She said, "Well, they're probably not getting enough sunlight. They need a lot of sunlight. Okay, bye." And that was our entire exchange. And now my two-year-old has a huge crush on the girl next door. Inevitable.
Our peonies finally bloomed yesterday, and Lucy is right: They need lots of light. They also require well-drained soil and prefer the cooler climates of zones 2-8. (Here's a zone finder to see where you fall.) Some more pics and tips and facts after the jump.
- Peonies are the state flower of Indiana and the 12th wedding anniversary flower; Many brides carry them down the aisle because they symbolize good fortune and a happy marriage.
- Herbaceous peonies are the most popular, but there are hundreds of varieties on the market, including tree peonies, which can have dinner-plate sized blossoms and grow up to six feet tall.
- Peonies come in just about every color of the rainbow except blue.
- Fall is the ideal time to plant. They bloom from late spring to summer and rarely bloom the first year after planting; It can take up to three years before you start seeing blooms, but once you do, you can count on them for a lifetime.