From the black-eyed susans to the marigolds, the plants surrounding Hilari Hinnant’s Millersville home are there to serve the insects. Her garden’s so pollinator-friendly, it’s earned certifications from three environmental groups.
Still, Hinnant couldn’t resist the breathtaking, fabulous pink flowers she saw at the Philadelphia Flower Show. She brought a peony root from a vendor called Peony’s Envy and planted it months later.
Every May, the peonies bloom, pink and deep red, in her front yard. She calls them the prom queen of her garden.
Peony buds throughout Lancaster County are just about to burst open. These showy flowers became a garden staple after the Civil War, and they remain a top choice for arrangements, especially for weddings. These flowers are frilly, delicate and sometimes fragrant. The plants themselves are not a lot of work.
Borders with blooms
Peony shrubs can grow three feet high. After the flowers fade, the dense green foliage lasts for months, making it a good option for a border plant.
Debbie Richer recalls having peonies along the fence row in her childhood home in Indiana. As a nod to the past, she planted them in a triangle bed that was tough to mow at her Manheim Township home.
A row of pink and merlot peonies grows at the back of Lynne Kline’s yard in Clay Township. They separate the yard and a neighbor’s field.
And when Raymond and Anna Mary Wenger downsized from their farm, their new home near Brickerville had a row of peonies growing along the shed in the backyard. Anna Mary can look out the windows and enjoy the row of ivory flowers with pale pink centers.
Peonies for bouquets
Peonies bloom for just a few weeks, making them a prized, and pricy, flower for florists. A few years ago, the Wengers offered the rights to their peonies to a florist searching for wedding flowers. They’re one of the most coveted wedding flowers because of the look and versatility.
“Whether you’re hosting a ballroom bash, an outdoor rustic celebration or a city-chic affair, peonies complement every type of wedding,” Brides magazine writes.
Countless brides over the past 20 years have carried peonies grown locally by Yvonne Musser. She started growing peonies on her Manor Township farm as her children grew up. She found working outside was therapeutic. Among her perennial plants, peonies are a dependable flower with little care.
“They take minimal care and they give you back. It’s one of my favorite flowers,” she says. “The bloom is so spectacular when you see that it comes out of a bud that’s the size of a large marble.”
Musser grows other plants with a focus on fragrance, like lilacs and lily of the valley. She’s taught herself about perennials like peonies as she’s added plants through the years.
With hundreds of peony plants, she’s learned not to mix different varieties in her rows. They mature at different rates, making it more difficult to harvest.
The blooming at the Musser farm starts with a coral peony. Later, there are Maxima peonies, a type with sturdy stems and white, fragrant flowers. The pinks range from the palest pink to medium pink and magenta plus a pink with a yellow center. Red Charm is a spectacular red packed with petals. Gay Paree has a ring of plum petals on the outside, medium pink petals in the middle and creamy white petals in the center. The peonies start blooming in the middle of May and a month later are finished.
Whether going to a wholesaler or florists, the flowers are cut long before they bloom, just as the buds start to reveal their color. This helps them last longer.
Every spring, Musser saves some peonies to donate to Hospice and Community Care’s Inpatient Center in Mount Joy. During the weeks when the flowers are in bloom, a volunteer takes some to brighten the center for patients and for staff. Years ago, Musser’s mother received hospice care.
“It’s my way to say thank you for all that you’ve done for me,” she says.
Even if they don’t last weeks in a vase or outdoors, peonies still bring joy.
Debbie Richer made room for three peony bushes in her triangular flower garden: light pink, dark pink and white. She loves bringing cut flowers indoors and peonies are both beautiful and fragrant. When they bloom, Richer gathers what she can and shares the bounty. This way, the flowers can be enjoyed by as many as possible.