Red in the Garden

Last year’s peonies greet me each time I turn on my computer. There they are in a close up photo I took that now serves as my desktop image, all delicate and pink and white with just a fine blush of pink on the edges of petals that escaped hail damage and early bugs. They were at their best May 21st, apparently, since that is when I took the picture.

Not this year. It’s May 25th and the peonies are done, even the red one that typically doesn’t open until Father’s Day. I have just come in from deadheading the last of them, the ones that kept their heads down during the last hail storm, but have now said, “enough, already, it’s too hot, too early.” I don’t blame them…I feel a bit peevish myself in today’s heat. Now I will just savor this year’s photo, taken two weeks ago of the last ones blooming, the red being stronger than the pinks and whites.

We all know the mild winter has moved the gardening calendar up about a month, hence deadheading peonies, but it has also shifted color emphasis in my garden. It seems the red things are more insistent than last year–happier to be out and flourishing than their paler relatives–and some red things overwintered that never have before. About six weeks ago I was out weeding little baby maple and ash trees from a flower bed and discovered that there were no baby snapdragons where I had hoped they would reseed themselves. I was rooting around looking for them when I suddenly realized that the 12″ tall plant I was searching underneath was an almost-ready-to-bloom snapdragon! I know snapdragons are actually perennials (usually treated as cool season annuals in our climate), but I have never had one prove it to me before. If memory serves, I planted yellow, pink, white, and red snapdragons last year, deadheading about half the bloom spikes as the season went along, letting the rest go to seed. It is the red one that persevered. And the red it has produced? Deep, iridescent red, worthy of richer words for “red”–carmine, vermillion, ruby, scarlet, crimson. Glorious in morning light. The strong surprise of a mild winter.

Cindy Briggs


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