The two things that say “May” to me are peonies and Memorial Day. This May I’ve enjoyed weeks of fragrant & beautiful peony blooms in my garden, drooled over incredible peony bouquets in a Seattle farmers market, taken a road trip to peony producing Red Twig Farms in central Ohio, and thought a lot about my Dad.
After the Civil War, General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, proclaimed a Decoration Day to honor the fallen soldiers. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed. Congress passed the National Holiday Act of 1971, which ensured Federal holiday’s like Memorial Day a three day weekend.
Dad grew up in the town of Beech Grove, on the south side of Indianapolis. His parents and grandparents loved gardening and grew row after row of peonies on their property. So many, in fact, that they sold them by the buckets full on the side of the road on Decoration Day.
I’ve always had a soft spot for peonies. As a kid we’d get our own bucket-of-blooms from Grandpa John to take to the cemetery. He grew “old fashioned pinks and whites.” I never knew there were any other kind, and I don’t think I saw a “single” blossom until I was 50! I LOVED how they smelled, and I loved the huge bloom heads. My Mom did NOT like the ants that came along with them!
I have 5 peony plants in my yard now, and this month I’ve been pondering what varieties I might like to include next summer in the small side yard of the 1876 Fixer Upper. Space will be precious, so I need to choose thoughtfully! At the moment, I’m leaning toward adding the fragrant “festiva maxima,” an heirloom from the 1850s that bears white flowers with tiny flecks of crimson. And I may repeat the “abalone pearl” that’s a stunner, and probably the sweet light pink “Shirley Temple.” Some variety of a dark maroon, perhaps?
This weekend a friend and I drove 3+ hours to the Red Twig Farms in New Albany, Ohio for their Peony Season Opener event. That’s a LONG way for a bouquet! But believe me, we weren’t the only ones salivating over their beautiful blooms. The variety of cut peonies was terrific, and it was fun to make your selections and fashion a bouquet. “Filler flowers” were also available if desired. If my Fixer Upper garden was ready, I’d have gone home with plants!
I brought home a dozen peony blooms for an arrangement. My friend, Hilary, chose 18 blooms to make two arrangements – one for herself and one as a gift. (She is much nicer than I am!) I used my Mom’s white soup tureen as a container, and I love how it turned out!
Although it’s difficult to see them in the photo of the completed arrangement above, the tureen is flanked by two clay figurines my Dad brought home from Japan from his tour of duty in 1952-53. They’re a little worse for wear, but I love them. Reminds me of Dad every time I look at them, especially with the peonies.
I seldom hear the term Decoration Day, and Memorial Day has become Memorial Weekend. Whatever you call it, it’s our opportunity as a nation to pause and preserve the memory of those who gave their lives in service of this country. Over 1.1 million Americans have died in U.S. Wars. That takes my breath away, and I am humbly grateful for their service. And so very thankful that my Dad, a U.S. Navy veteran of WWII and Korea, lived a long and happy life back home with his family. How lucky am I that through time (Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, WWII and Korea) my family who served were spared. A favorite Decoration Day flower (and the state flower of Indiana!) is, for me, a gentle reminder of this day and my Dad.