A rose is a rose is a rose -- yes, roses are nice (even wonderful, if you know how to make them grow) but I would take a peony any old day over that proverbial rose. If there is such a thing as a perfect flower, my nomination would be the peony. They are easy to grow, dependable, long-lasting in a bouquet, smell heavenly and are gorgeous from bud to full blossom. What more could one ask of a flower?
My peonies have been in this spot for 28 years, planted the first summer we lived in our home. They are, however, much, much older than that. These timeless beauties were carrying on their business at an old home site on the farm, high on a windy hill above our little valley, long before I ever thought about living here. It had been decades, truly, since some pioneer woman had planted them outside her humble cabin, and then it had been more decades since that home had been abandoned, leaving the peonies to fend for themselves. That's one of their most admirable qualities -- they do take care of themselves. When I found them in the middle of the cow pasture on that long-ago May morning, they were blooming their sweet heads off, tended only by the hand of nature itself. Perhaps the cattle grazing around them added some natural fertilizer to the rocky soil, but that was the extent of any extra care they received.
Anyone who grows peonies knows you don't dig them up and transplant them when they are fully grown and blooming -- but I, novice peony grower that I was, didn't know that. I only knew that if I waited, I'd never find them again. So, grunting and groaning, I hacked at the rock-hard soil until I got enough roots and shoots to transplant. I honestly wondered if they'd just give up the ghost after I so rudely disturbed their carefree existence. And that first growing season was a challenge. I did water them that year, each time they began to really wilt, and I waited to see what would happen the coming spring. I probably even crossed my less-than-green fingers, hoping against hope they would survive.
Sure enough, the peonies happily greeted me that next year with lots of shoots and quite a few blooms. And every year since, they've shown me nothing but their best. Not that we've treated them well: they've been tread upon by farmers, children and grandchildren, living as they are in such close proximity to where we enter the house. They've been slept upon and under by various dogs. They've lived through drought years and seasons of too much water. Never mind: the peonies thrive, and every year in May they produce the prettiest blossoms imaginable.
Despite all the poetic references to roses, I don't know of any flower that smells as lovely as the bouquet by my side right now; indeed, it is almost intoxicating in its sweetness. I picked the blossoms on Monday, and four days later they are still simply beautiful. Yes, I vote for peony as flower of the year -- no, the best flower ever. Period.