When I first moved to this latest house in a long line of homes, one of the more lovely aspects of the place was a gorgeous, well-established white peony that someone had planted by the front of the fence. The peony flowers, along with a couple of very large poppy plants, were the only bright spots in yard that was otherwise a sea of weeds and garbage.
A lot of energy was generated trying to create new garden beds and clean up what little had been there before. But after pruning some twisted, overgrown vines off a strangled apple tree, I got a pretty bad case of poison ivy. Further investigation yielded the discovery that The Beautiful Peony also had poison ivy growing all around it. This put a major dent in my gardening mania. Bummer.
I was rather surprised when the S.O., rather out of the blue, decided to get involved and remove the poison ivy. He bombarded it with what must have been some evil, nasty, very toxic stuff. It decimated the PI but also appeared to kill the peony plant in the process. Because the plant had been so large and beautiful – and also one of the few nice things in the yard at that time – I became a bit upset about losing it. I can get like that about some of my plants (and not others). The World War Three type wasteland the weed-killer created became a well avoided biohazard area. Any new perennials were planted elsewhere, with hope that the peony might – by some miracle – return the next spring.
Sure enough, the following year I was elated to see that the peony appeared to be coming back.
Well, something was coming up where the peony had been. But it was something no longer the same. A gnarled monkey’s paw of a hand came reaching out of the earth. When this “hand” opened to sprout into leaves, they were all misshapen and claw-like; a chemically altered, distorted, mutant plant. I think I actually said “Oh My God” out loud upon seeing it. There was something rather horrifying about it, horrifying enough that you have to wonder, if these poisons can do this to a living plant, what are they doing to us?
The mutant peony continued to shoot up stalks and more thin, bent, rolled-up leaves. With each new leaf I hoped it would return to normal, but they never quite unfurled. They were oddly shaped, each one revealing itself as a skeletal finger. It never developed any flowers either. I have posted a photo here, a few years after the fact. I cannot find the photos I took of that first “Return of the Peony” but it was rather scary stuff.
The year after that, the peony did the same thing yet again. I was hoping that the poison would run out of its system, but apparently it did not. It seemed forever damaged on some deep, cellular level. Finally, realizing it was not going to produce anything but these horrible leaves, I cut it way back to the ground so I would not have to look at it.
The third spring when the monster hands began to reach up out of the earth again, I was so creeped out that I decided to dig it out and get rid of it. It had a significant, old root in the ground and really required some hacking to remove it.
At year four something new started growing in that spot. Emerging out of the poisoned, dug up spot. I awaited with trepidation – how was it possible for anything to grow there again? But lo and behold (this is actually what I said out loud when I saw it - “lo and behold!“) it was a normal peony! With normal leaves! Not only did it flower, but the ants were crawling all over it, which I think was a very healthy sign.
I am so amazed at its revival that I have repeatedly gone outside to keep inhaling the heavenly scent and to take photos of it, even after the last hard rain, which has flopped them over and mashed the peony flowers into the ground, leaving them looking like so many boiled cabbages.