Winterthur, Delaware, 2008 – 2019, 2021
Legacy of Henry Francis du Pont, 1880-1969, American.
The peonies have struggled to flower this year of Covid-19.
Their flowering time is coming to a close.
Some bushes did not bloom. On others, the flowers died in bud.
This peony garden – upper and lower – at Winterthur was created in the mid-1940s.
In the upper garden a few irises have been planted at the edge of the peony beds in memory of those removed when this garden was created.
The gardners were said to be secretly very pleased because irises are a high-maintenance plant.
I wonder how I would have survived my American sojourn without the beauty and fragrance of these flowers year after year.
But, of course, we survive using every mechanism under heaven until we die.
Peonies benefited from the hybridizing work of the American peony pioneers, A.P. Saunders (1869-1953). And the Pennsylvanian, J. Franklin Styer (1900-1996).
A business heir of the Styers told me in the summer of 2019 that herbaceous and tree peonies have themselves been successfully crossed (Itoh peony, 1940, Japan).
Winterthur’s upper peony garden is a lawn with a gazebo and peonies planted on its edges, overhung with lilac and beauty bushes in an enclosure of tall canopy trees.
The upper peony garden with the beauty bush trailing
Steps lead down to a roadway. Crossing it, you reach a rectangle: the lower garden: three stepped platforms.
The lower peony garden in very early Spring
The lower peony garden in May
Peonies grow in beds edging this rectangle, one of which overhangs it. Peonies fill the middle platform.
Along one outside perimeter of the rectangle and also in the upper garden are planted Lenten roses. They bloom very early in Spring.
Lenten roses after flowering
As early, the ephemeral glory-of-the-snow with the promise of deep summer sky in the soil of the first growth of the peony plants.
The beauty of these peonies are matched by their evocative common-and-garden names: Mystery, Hesperus. Some of these plants have no names but accession numbers only.
The name of the species itself a reference to Pæon, the doctor of the Olympian gods, a disciple of Asclepias:
a reference to the use of the peony root for medicinal purposes in more than one civilization.
Their beauty a continuing balm.
A peony named for the evening star, Hesperus.
The bushes are dead-headed when the flowers fade. The seed pods cannot be easily used to generate a new plant. These are mulched.
Winterthur is comprised of gardens in parkland. There is also land used for agriculture.
The gardens are designed to flower in successive waves; linked by one man’s thinking over decades about growing and showing flowers.
I find the peony garden the most peaceful of Winterthur’s gardens.
The beauty of peonies is extravagant.
Nothing edgy about them, unlike roses. Not spear-perfect like tulips.
Sometimes a little too heady. But always generous in their promise and their mature flowering.
Always extravagantly beautiful. Often voluptuously so.
I love peonies more than any flower except, perhaps for poppies which seem to be peonies in modest structural form.
The peony as a form of the sun
Peonies piled up in the entrance hall of the museum
A gift of peonies, 2016
Fresh flowers at the front door of Winterthur’s museum. This comprises 175 rooms of the decorative arts of the Eastern US, 1640-1850.