Originally created 05/26/06

Peonies provide months of pleasure

Peonies are perhaps the longest lasting beauties of the flower garden. Not the flowers themselves, which are as short-lived as any other perennial flower. But the young spears that precede the flowers add a bit of reddish color to the early flower garden and the long lasting, dark green foliage remains a lush oasis even in the glare of midsummer sun.

Those fat blossoms are something special, though, and there are ways to prolong their show, if not in the garden, then indoors. You can easily dry them by just hanging them upside down. Double white, pink, and red varieties dry the best.

For more natural color and better shape, dry peony blooms with a desiccant such as silica gel or a mix of one part each of borax and cornmeal. Fill an airtight box with a couple of inches depth of desiccant, slide a heavy wire into each flower stem and bend it at a right angle, then set the flowers face up in the desiccant. Trickle desiccant in among and over the petals. Remove the flowers as soon as their petals are pliable like tissue paper.

If you prefer the blossoms more lifelike, preserve them with glycerine. Stir one part glycerine into two parts hot water, let the mix cool, then plunk the cut ends of peony stems into the solution. Move the container to a cool location and replenish the solution as necessary. The plant will change color slightly as the solution is absorbed and the flowers are ready when the color change is complete. Store the finished flowers upright in a cool, dry location.

The most lifelike blooms, of course, come from living flowers, and with some trickery, you can enjoy fresh peonies for a month or more.

Cut the blossoms while they're still in bud, when their green coverings have parted just enough to let the color of the petals poke through. Cut each stem low enough to include all leaves except the bottom one. Don't cut too many stems from a plant, though, or the plant will starve for lack of leaves.

After about 20 minutes, plunge the bases of the stems into a container of cold water and move the container into the refrigerator. After a couple of hours, remove the flowers from the water, wrap them completely in plastic wrap, then return them to the refrigerator, laying them on their sides.

Whenever you hanker for peony blossoms, just take some out of the refrigerator. Put their stems in water, and within eight hours -- voila! -- the petals will unfold.

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