Peonies are among the first flowers I remember, because my grandparents had lots of them. They bloom around Memorial Day, or as Granddaddy called it, Decoration Day. He liked them so much he planted a peony bush on my grandmother’s gravesite in a country cemetery near Madison, Ind. The bush is still there some 50 years later.
I grew up “south of 40,” which is U.S. Highway 40, and until I married Carla, from “north of 40,” I never heard them called anything but “pi-nes,” with a long “i” and long “e” sound. She soon corrected me — it’s officially pronounced “pee-uh-nee.”
She’s been correcting me for 35 years. I still say “pi-ne” when she’s not around. And I’m not the only one. If you Google “peony pronunciation” you’ll get several pronunciations — a British version, even an Australian version. You can even click on a YouTube video of a British lady doing nothing but saying “pee-uh-nee”!
The peony caper
We had six peony bushes along our front sidewalk. Most years, they produced beautiful blooms. A year ago, Carla noticed there weren’t many blooms as Memorial Day approached. When she looked closer, she noticed something nipped off the buds!
What insect attacks peony bushes? The “insect” was our 7-year-old granddaughter, Addy. She simply didn’t know any better, and thought it was fun collecting all those buds and cooking up make-believe soup, or whatever she did with them.
No, we didn’t scold her. But she learned you need a bud to get a flower. After that episode, Carla decided we should move the bushes and just landscape along the sidewalk.
So, on Labor Day weekend, we visited a nursery and bought peony plants. We even made the trek to Madison, and I dug up starts from Grandpa’s “pi-ne” bushes — he was from way south of 40! Then on Labor Day itself, I dug up the peony plants along the sidewalk. Our son, Daniel, and I made a bed for them in the yard, and we planted roots for 20 peony bushes. We also laid down fabric to keep down weeds and put decorative rock along the sidewalk where the bushes once were.
This spring, I waited anxiously to see how many peony bushes would sprout. At last count, we have 17 in the new spot. As luck would have it, the three deadbeats are all ones we bought.
Just before Easter one evening, Carla says, “Have you noticed what’s in the rock bed by the sidewalk?”
I wanted to say “rocks!” But slipping in “pi-ne” here and there is likely pushing it, so I didn’t say anything.
“There are ‘pee-uh-nee’ plants coming up through the rocks,” she says. “You didn’t get them all.”
No way! How could something with a name half the world mispronounces be that strong? I ran outside. Sure enough, there were a few stalks peeking through.
Guess how many? That’s right, three clumps! We will have a full “pee-uh-nee” bed next year!