A few years ago, I traveled to Seattle for a friend’s wedding, and had an awakening. I’d never paid much attention to peonies before, but that weekend, they were everywhere: beautifying the bridal bouquet (you can see them if you click the link and scroll through the photos), artfully arranged (so that they looked perfectly un-arranged) in a vase in the guest bathroom of the home where I was staying, and spilling over fences in neighborhood gardens around Green Lake. Suddenly, it seemed peonies were everywhere, in home decor, clothing, poems, and strangely enough, in Alaska.
Alaska, it turns out, has the perfect climate for peonies to bloom in July and August, a period of time that, in other parts of the country and corners of the world, is peony-less. Because of this, Alaska’s peony industry is blossoming (haha – borrowed this pun from a co-worker!). Alaska now has 20 commercial growers (give or take a few), and more than 60 peony farms are in development.
The blooms and big and beautiful, and very hard to get your hands on as a local unless you grow your own. Significant overseas demand means that most of the flowers are shipped away before Alaskans even have a chance at purchasing them – trust me, when planning my wedding last summer, I tried (maybe if I lived in Homer or found this website, it wouldn’t have been so hard)! So, imagine my delight when I was asked to pick up a bouquet of Alaska grown peonies to display at the Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development’s (my place of employment) booth for the Governor’s picnic this weekend!
I now have a beautiful bouquet of perfect peonies at home that I’ve been admiring (gloating over actually; at last, the peonies are mine!). Even my puppy, Grover, is fascinated by them. I caught him staring longingly at the blooms, and I know that if he’d been taller, he would have tried to find out what a peony tastes like (yum?). It will be hard to give them up, but I will for the good of Alaska! Grover and I will have to content ourselves with walks to ogle the neighborhood peonies.
Here’s a poem for you to ponder (and a photo at the end!):
Peonies, by Mary Oliver
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,
their red stems holding
all that dampness and recklessness
gladly and lightly,
and there it is again —
beauty the brave, the exemplary,
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 exclaiming of their dearness,
fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,
with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are