His Special Peonies

Where would our gardens be without the bushy foliage and tightly swirled blossoms of May-blooming peonies? Peonies lend a color-riot of intense pinks and reds that can’t be found in other flowers during the spring. Peony bushes are found in old-fashioned cottage gardens, alongside houses, and in a country-row along the edge of lawns. Gardeners have enjoyed growing peonies for more than a century. With little effort, gardeners are rewarded each spring with the resurgence of foliage and blossoms to renew their love affair with the large, swirling sweetly-scented blossoms of the peonies.

Peony from Woodard garden

My grandparents grew peonies. Their peonies grew in their backyard, near the garage. The peonies at the Woodard home were of an old, abundant variety and my grandparents had whites, pinks, and reds. Each year, my grandfather would cut some of the peony blossoms and carefully wrap the cut-stemmed flowers to save them for the Memorial Day weekend. On Memorial Day, my grandparents would honor tradition and they would visit the gravesides of their loved ones. During Memorial Day weekend, they would pay respect to their departed family members with gifts of remembrance from their home-grown peonies.

The peonies bloomed very early in May 1981. My grandfather, being honor-bound and dutiful, cut the early-blooming peonies and wrapped the flowers and stems in dampened newsprint. Memorial Day was weeks away, and so my grandfather stored the cut peony blossoms in the cool, dark cellar, where they would keep well for the annual cemetery trip later that month.

The spring of 1981 had been early and glorious. But not to be tempted too hastily, my grandfather waited until all signs of frost were gone before he began his large, summertime vegetable garden. My grandfather was an avid gardener and he loved springtime. This time of year, he turned much of his attention to his vegetable garden.

After tilling his soil one day in May, my grandfather decided it was time to began his late-spring planting. He worked hard that day, tilling, hoeing, and planting several different vegetables. It was on this day in early May that he planted several rows of his favorite green bean, the Half Runner. Each year, as he planted his seeds, he would recall how delicious those Half Runners were when cooked with bacon or ham for flavoring. A mess-of-beans was a nourishing country meal, and my grandfather surely appreciated the extra helpings of those home-grown beans offered at meal-time.

My grandfather always loved being outdoors, and he loved his garden. He was in his own world during the growing season. It was during his times out-of-doors that he and the earth were one.

That full day of gardening in early May had been a good day. The spring soil had been tilled one last time, the rows were marked with stretched strings, and many seeds had been planted. To a gardener, planting time was a special time: planting time offered hope and renewal, and a bounty of food harvested from small labors.

And so, being content with his labors of springtime planting, my grandfather put the tiller away, and returned to his garden to retrieve his hoe and other tools.

And in his garden, his heart stopped.

My grandfather collapsed and died in his garden that early evening. With his last Earthly garden planted, and the peonies picked and stored for the graveside visits later that month, his work ended.

It was a few days later in early May when my grandfather’s grave was adorned with his own home-grown, hand-picked peonies. His last bouquet of special peonies were laid to rest alongside him as he passed from our earth into his beyond.

Peony from Woodard garden

Lester Woodard

October 7, 1904 – May 5, 1981