Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - September 27, 2019


Pass-along perennials

My family always enjoyed the peonies, irises and day lilies that brightened our Marion County, Kansas farm each year. Most had been planted by my grandparents, Robert and Ethel Freeland, although some of them were likely set by my great-grandparents, William and Mary, or possibly even the previous owners. While I could have bought new stock to decorate husband Art's and my home near Manhattan, I liked the idea of the connection that would arise from replanting some taken from the farm. So one fall about 25 years ago, Mom and Dad helped me dig up and divide several tubers and replant them around our mailbox and on the south side of our home. Later, when the folks moved to Manhattan in 2000, they also brought a few for their yard.

Other than enjoying them, I haven't had to do anything with them since because they are perennials. Thatís MY kind of gardening - the kind where I don't have to spend hours watering, fertilizing and weeding.

I donít usually think about these beautiful flowers this time of year because they finish blooming well before fall arrives. But friend Jay mentioned them a few weeks ago when he, Art and I were chatting at a local cafť. His wife died earlier this year, and he recently planted peonies on her grave.

He added that it didn't seem many people had peonies in their gardens any more. Because they have adorned my family's homes for as long as I can remember, I haven't noticed whether their popularity had changed.

I always associate the flower with Memorial Day, since we used to decorate our relatives' graves with the big pink and white blossoms. If they started blooming too early, we'd cut them just as the flowers were budding, rinse off the ants that help the blooms to open and protect them from other insects, wrap the stems in paper towels soaked with water, put them in a plastic bag and store them in the refrigerator until the day we went to the cemetery.

Jay said he hadn't heard of that trick, but I have made good use of it for years. Sister Gaila doesn't have any at her home in Bolivia. So when she arrives in Kansas each June, I take the ones I have saved for her from the refrigerator, pop them into a vase and then hand them over so she can enjoy them as I do.

The plant's name is of Greek origin and it is pronounced several ways. Merriam-Webster's dictionary opts for pee-uh-nee, with a slight emphasis on the first syllable. But some sources suggest that pee-oh-nee is more common in the Southern states. Art's grandmother Alvina always said pine-nee, and web searches support the idea that this pronunciation was once common.

Iris is also a Greek name and refers to the rainbow. The plant was given that name because of the wide range of bloom colors. While I love the irises for their wonderful fragrance and variety of colors, Art had a memorable experience with one of them several years ago. He had cut several and had placed them in a vase next to his computer monitor at work. There was no one else in the building, so he was startled when he saw some movement out of the corner of his eye. Turning in that direction, he saw one of the iris buds opening ... the movement clearly visible such that it was completely open in a couple of minutes.

While day lilies can be found in as many colors as the iris, it seems the most common is the bright-orange variety, sometimes called tiger lilies. They don't last long, so one year when our girls and nieces were young and my parents were still living on the farm, Dad paid them a penny for each dead stalk they removed. It quickly became a competition to see who could pull the most.

When Art and I travel to our northern-Wisconsin cottage in late July, the later growing season there means the day lilies are still blooming. He often sees them near the trout streams he fishes, a strong sign that a farm house once stood nearby.

At some point, if they want them, I will pass along some of our peonies, irises and day lilies to daughters Mariya and Katie and our nieces and nephews. Silly as it may seem to some, it does my heart good to know that these same plants have brought joy to our family for at least four, and maybe more, generations.


Left: Gaila with two peonies saved in the refrigerator; middle: Mom Edla with the orange day lilies on our farm near Burns, Kansas; right: Mariya (left) and Gaila's daughter Gabriela with their collection of dead day lily stalks in anticipation of a big pay day from their Grandpa Edgar.



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