When we first bought our house in Mt. Holly, NJ, we were greeted by wonderful neighbors who lived in surrounding homes. The couple living in the house to our rear shared an alley with us and everyone on our respective block. Rosa and Paul were very welcoming. They helped us with gardening and the planting of numerous azalea bushes and evergreens. Rosa and her green thumb directed me and at times during our thirty plus years there the yard actually looked good. Their yard was garden delight, filled with both flowers and vegetables. Rosa shared both with us. She was also a fine cook and containers of clam chowder steaming with goodness were delivered frequently by Paul along with bags of tomatoes in the many years we lived there. Sadly, they are both gone now, but memories of their friendship remain forever. Manja and Bob, our friends across the street, were equally wonderful to us. One of their daughters had a daughter the same year Michele was born. On visits to Mt. Holly the two little girls would play and become friends forever. Manja is also a really good cook and we remember fondly all her barbecues and family gatherings that included us. The neighbor to our right was a single woman who made it her mission to introduce Michele to Broadway. Every time her church would plan a bus trip to NYC to see a show, Anne would take Michele to the theater. Anne also fancied herself an opera singer. She took lessons in NYC and as I recall that was a big waste of money. It made her happy and I’m sure that was enough for her.
The previous owner of our home had planted some wonderful perennials. We were pleasantly surprised when the daffodils and foxglove came up the first year we were there. Unfortunately we were not as happy with the bamboo that also grew on our lot. Ron spent many an hour wrestling with it in attempts to remove it from alongside our foundation. It always grew back.
Rosa knew that I was fond of peonies, but also knew I had none in our yard. She helped me plant some and I remember seeing a few grow, but none would grow to their full potential. Now that our yard is shaping up at our NY home, I think it might be time to give the peony garden another shot.
My collage is a tribute to the pink peony. This flower has the most amazing fragrance and soft beauty. I hope to have some success with growing them this time around. I found a poem written by Mary Oliver that expresses the essence of this flower in words better than I could ever hope to write.
Poem: “Peonies,” by Mary Oliver, from New and Selected Poems (Beacon Press).
This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart
as the sun rises,
as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers
and they open–
pools of lace,
white and pink–
and all day the black ants climb over them,
boring their deep and mysterious holes
into the curls,
craving the sweet sap,
taking it away
to their dark, underground cities–
and all day
under the shifty wind,
as in a dance to the great wedding,
the flowers bend their bright bodies,
and tip their fragrance to the air,
their red stems holding
all that dampness and recklessness
gladly and lightly,
and there it is again–
beauty the brave, the exemplary,
Do you love this world?
Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?
Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden,
and exclaiming of their dearness,
fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,
with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are