I have a favourite flower… well, that is actually not quite true, I have a few, but I have a current flower that I am loving most… until I love the next flower more… it’s the magical peony.
In a breathless confession, I will confess that this beautiful flower takes my breath away. It is simply the most stunning of flowers.
Oddly, it is only a recent discovery for me as it is not a flower that grows in the warmer tropical climate I currently reside in. They seem to like the cold crispy southern mornings (totally opposite to me), which would possibly explain why it has been a discovery so late in life.
Having said that, I made up for the late discovery by embracing this captivating bloom wholeheartedly and deeming it the flower that the wedding of my dreams would pivot upon, which is how I have since come to learn so much about them.
My first introduction to them was through images, in which I had mistaken them for roses (plebe). Often called peony roses, they are not dissimilar in their open ruffled blooms, but roses are much more commonplace. Peonies, well, they are special. Let me tell you a story…
Weddings are such an important day. As a self-consumed bride-to-be I enamoured myself in the minutia of detail leading up to my (our) big day. As that same, self-consumed bride-to-be, the vision that I had in my mind were of voluptuous deep magenta peonies in full layered bloom… it seemed like such a simple request… ah, so naïve…
I like to source things myself… it is like an adventure… but weddings are not usually the time to experiment… I know that now…
In my defence, I did have a few conversations with a florist, but I didn’t ‘feel the love’. I didn’t feel like they were going to commit to the process and make it happen. I now understand why. That should have been my first warning bell, but I guess I confused it with a wedding bell…
Peonies are the essence of romance and love, they represent good fortune and a happy marriage… what could be more appropriate? They also represent wealth and honour – surely that is nothing to scoff at. Mystery and myth surround the flower leading to its association with moonbeams, immortals and everything in between… it is definitely ‘sho yu’ (means ‘most beautiful’ in Chinese – apparently its Chinese name). I am telling you, this flower was destined for me.
However, there were a few obstacles to overcome.
The first was quite an odd obstacle, but none-the-less an important one… I have difficulty saying the word ‘peony’. Try as I might I just can’t get my tongue around it so I keep calling it pee-ony, when according to the Cambridge dictionary it is actually pronounced ‘piː.ə.ni’ – does that make any sense at all? Follow this link: http://dictionary.cambridge.org/pronunciation/british/peony.
I have said it now at least a hundred times and I still sound like a bogon every time I say it… so then I draw even more attention to my pronunciation by mumbling it so I am asked to repeat it several times…
Ok, so that is an obstacle my inner bogon can nurture…
Next obstacle is, they are a bit precious, renowned for being difficult to grow, and in Australia they only flower during the months of October to December. Well I thought I had that one covered perfectly as our wedding was in November.
Ha! Yeah right!
So I spoke to a supplier, who assured me that they would be able to acquire some peonies for me and told me to ring back 2 weeks before the wedding to confirm my order. That should have been my second warning bell, but I am very trusting and I guess was revelling in my organisational skills so again, they were drowned out by the wedding bells.
I obliviously abandoned all thoughts of the said peony, until the second week prior to my wedding only to be told after two days of scouring the floral community that “Nup. Sorry. No-can-do.” Variety not available, colour not available, alternatives not available, blah, blah, blah…
I look back now and admire my dogged determination, utter sense of denial, incomprehension, lack of sensibility and abundance of sheer stupidity, but somehow it all paid off… not without one or two more obstacles.
Well, needless to say I had to take things into my own hands (ignoring the fact that is what actually got me into this fix in the first place).
Turns out, I can be quite enterprising. I found a grower in Tasmania – they are predominantly grown in the southern states/colder climates – a week before the wedding. Yes, they did grow the variety I was after – Inspecteur Lavergne – but they had flowered early and they were not sure that there would be enough.
Well, desperate times call for desperate measures. We were one week out, and I was going to have to reach a compromise, otherwise there was a strong possibility that I would be walking down the aisle with a bunch of flowers from the local IGA!
The decision was made, my deep magenta blooms would be supplemented with whatever else was available – beggars can’t be choosers… I am churning out the clichés now!
The next obstacle was that the flowers were actually in Tasmania… I was on the Sunshine Coast… only several thousand kilometres between us… and there was only one delivery day left open to me and that was for them to be airfreighted to the airport on the Monday prior to the wedding, which was on the Thursday… and the obstacles didn’t stop upon arrival.
Now here is an interesting little fact about peonies… they are picked buds closed, which is not uncommon in the floral industry. While kept cold and in the dark, they remain closed, expose them to warmth and light and they very quickly open.
Here was the next obstacle… it was Monday, the wedding was on Thursday, we were undergoing some of the hottest days on record, I had 10 bunches of peonies that begged to be kept cool, until the perfect time as to where we would then expose them to the warmth so they could unfold their exquisitely delicate petals and be in perfect full bloom. At which point I would select the most beautiful amongst them to work into a luscious bouquet. I did a quick You Tube tutorial (see end of post), so I was now the ‘expert’ in peony bouquets too – I really was potentially setting myself up for the perfect disaster.
My initial plan was to put them in the beer fridge in the garage, but 10 bunches is a lot of flowers… so we put them in buckets in the kitchen under the air conditioner set on ‘arctic’ with a dark sheet over them to keep the light off them in a hope to keep them in hibernation.
While the house felt like an igloo and we were all on the verge of frostbite, the peonies were eager to greet and began to open.
Slightly panicked, I packed them tightly into the buckets and went back to my original plan and made room in the beer fridge downstairs.
However, these buggers of flowers were not cutting me a break and the beer fridge (downstairs, because it was the less reliable of our appliances) decided that even on its lowest setting it was cold enough to freeze the blooms closest to the top shelf of the fridge. This is not at all a shortcoming for beer, but for peonies it is potentially lethal.
Great… frozen blooms, just what a bride always wanted…
I am really not sure what happened from this point on. Pre-wedding psychosis, temporary insanity, utter exhaustion, verge of mental breakdown… I remember vaguely placing tiles on the top shelf of the fridge to guard the blooms and shuffling things around, and there was a lot of swearing.
Somehow we got through those few days, and on the night before the wedding I sat on our kitchen floor under the air conditioner with great joy working my wondrous blooms into exquisite bouquets as per the You Tube tutorial and my new found floristry and floral science skills.
On the day of the wedding, they were at their most perfect and fullest bloom in their stunningly gorgeous glory. I couldn’t have planned it better if I tried… and of course I didn’t… plan it that is… sheer fluke, flower fairy, universe, whatever or whomever I would like to attribute it to.
The moral of the story is, if the peony is your flower of wedding choice, then do not sway for a second as it is indeed worth every agonising moment in its journey to accompany you down the aisle… and it is indeed sho yu.
It is only a few months now and peonies will again be in bloom, and I will be on the lookout for those splendorous blooms.
If you are visiting Tasmania from October though to December, then you will most certainly need to pass by Weston Farm, the home to my magical beauties. I believe the peonies are available at their farm gate – treat yourself – it is an indulgence as good as chocolate, though chocolate is a lot easier to come by.
A big thanks to Weston Farm for helping me to move heaven and earth to fulfil a whim. They really are my most favourite flower, and they are now the most memorable too!
And here is the Peony bouquet tutorial I watched incase you are thinking about it too…
This story was written by Petra Frieser – Pebbles + Pomegranate Seeds