Autumn ritual: Cutting the peonies

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Editor’s Notebook column by Rick Palsgrove, editor

One of my favorite plants in my backyard are my peonies.

Each May I look forward to seeing the peonies’ big, bright blooms of white and pink. The blooms do not last long, but while they are in full flower they are a sight to behold.

After the blooms fade, the peonies’ bushy leaves remain a nice green hue all summer. As the cooler days of autumn roll in, these once fresh green leaves turn brown and the stems bend a bit after their season in the sun.

I’m always a little sad when the time comes in the fall to cut the peonies’ stems off to prepare the peonies for their winter sleep. The peonies are a familiar friend and it is a bit melancholy for me to see them go. But it is one of those annual autumnal tasks that must be done.

For decades each October, I have just used the lawn mower to mow down the dry, brown remnants of the glorious peonies. But this year it struck me that cutting them this way just did not feel right. Brutally mowing them down with the unrelenting cold, hard whirling blade of the roaring lawn mower did not seem like the proper way to say goodbye to my peonies friends for the winter.

So this year I took a pair of hand clippers and gingerly snipped, close to the ground, each individual stem, one by one, of my long row of peonies. It felt more quiet. It felt reverent.

It felt kinder. It felt like I was taking proper, gentle care of my old friends.

The peonies’ bed is vacant and bare now as only small stubbles remain. But throughout the coming winter the brown ground provides the promise of the fresh shoots of peonies that will appear in the early soft, spring ground and the welcoming blooms to follow next May.

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