Tuesday, July 24, 2007

festiva maxima

Peonies. Lush, artful, the epitome of summer. A bowl full of peonies is one of the ultimate luxuries. In the garden, we have deep, magenta peonies with a splash of yellow in the center. We dug them up from our mortgage officer Tommaso's garden several years ago and planted them in our fledgling perennial garden. He was moving, and wanted all his plants to find a new home. He was hopeful to inhabit his ancestral house in Italy, near Parma in the Emilia-Romagna. He would have roses near Parma. Maybe he would grow peonies there too.

We wait for June patiently. The peonies bloom in Woodstock early, then we have them at home in Barnard. I won't cut our peonies at home; they are too opulent and rare rising above the frill of ladies mantle and alongside the last of the bearded iris. Two years ago we ordered 22 Sarah Bernhardt peonies, the classic old-fashioned blush. We planned to underplant a hedge of Annabelle hydrangea that runs along the northside of our house. We were too late with our order, and we hoped they would arrive this spring instead. We're still waiting. It's time to find another source, so that we can cut them from home and not miss their lolling heads from the flower border because we will be rich in peonies.

In the season, we get several buckets full of peonies for the restaurant and home from a local grower, Hartland Flower Farm, or Harmony Farm as they are now called. They grow countless varieties with delicious names like Raspberry Sunday and Festiva Maxima. These are among our favorites, white petals flecked with candy apple red in the center. The farm holds an annual peony festival with flowers, food, and games for kids. When we still have coral pink blooms in the vases at the restaurant late into July, the patrons are in awe. At the farm they grow late blooming varieties that keep us in peonies longer than most. We show them off, flaunt them even.

At home, clutches of peonies are everywhere for as long as we can have them, and the rooms are fragrant with the blooms. Our two cats, Arlette and Janvier, a matched black pair, like to stick their noses deep into the centers. When the peonies have gone by, they will instead take in the roses.

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