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Archive for January, 2012

In Chinese, chun jie, the word for the traditional lunar new year, means “spring festival.” Though it is still very much winter in northern and central China, the new year heralds the slow awakening of spring. Traditionally the holiday is celebrated by families with mountains of dumplings, and large arsenals of fireworks. Another tradition is ‘forcing’ tree peonies to bloom in time for the New Year. In China, tree peonies represent prosperity and achievement as well as tokens of love. A blooming tree peony not only injects some much needed color into the winter days, but is also a wish for good fortune in the new year.

Forcing tree peonies to bloom in the winter is done by potting up plants in the fall and gradually raising the temperatures in a greenhouse over the course of about two months. There is a very large market in China for forced tree peonies. Businesses display blooming peonies at their offices, and people give potted plants as gifts to friends and family. City governments and universities also put on large public exhibitions of forced tree peonies. A grower we know in China said that his nursery alone forces more than 10,000 plants for the holiday. He estimated that overall about 1,000,000 potted tree peonies are forced to bloom in time for sale during the Spring Festival.

Budded tree peonies in a greenhouse about a week away from opening.

Unfortunately, the roots of these tree peonies have been severely trimmed to fit in these small pots. They will need to be transplanted into the ground or much larger containers for long-term survival. It will take many years before the plants are able to produce this many blossoms again.

Peonies in the winter!

In order to preserve the blossoms, they are wrapped in newspaper for transport.

This exhibition for the 2011 Spring Festival at the Institute of Botany at the Chinese Academy of Sciences feature over fifty different varieties of tree peonies.

Spring is coming!

At Cricket Hill Garden we have successfully forced tree peonies in the past and are happy to announce that we will be doing so again next year for the 2015 CT Flower and Garden show.

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In China, tree peonies have been objects of aesthetic fascination since at least the Sui Dynasty (589-618 CE). Painters and poets have worked to capture the ephemeral beauty of the blossoms. Tree peonies are also used to evoke female nature, love, prosperity and status. To help lighten the cold, dark days of winter, we find ourselves returning to some of our favorite peony poems of Chinese antiquity. Enjoy!

Spring River Flowers Moon Night

The river is smooth and calm this evening,

The peony flowers bloom.

The moon floats on the current.

The tide carries the stars.

— Qian Qi (Tang Dyanasty)

Visit to the Hermit Chui

Moss covered paths between scarlet peonies,

Pale jade mountains fill your rustic windows.

I envy you, drunk with flowers;

Butterflies swirling in your dreams.

— Qian Qi (Tang Dynasty)

The Blossoms of Luoyang

My lover is like the tree peony of Luoyang,

I, unworthy, like the common willows of Wu Chang.

Both places love the spring wind.

When shall we hold each others hands again?

Incessant the buzzing of insects beyond the orchard curtain

The moom flings slanting shadows from the pepper tree across the courtyard.

Pity the girl of the flowery house, who is not equal to the blossoms of Luoyang.

— Ting Liunang (Tang Dynasty)

Peonies at Jixing Temple

Springtime radiance, gradually, gradually where does it go?

Again before a wine jar, we take up a goblet.

All day we’ve questioned the flowers, but the flowers do not speak.

For whom do they shed their petals and leaves, for whom do they bloom?

–Emperor Yang (Sui Dynasty)

Tree Peonies

Embroidered garden, everywhere there, fettered with famous flowers;

My steps are blocked by the red tiers of budding crimson

I ponder on your favors, which resemble the colors of springtime-

Upon tree peony branches, indeed their glory’s profuse.

–Lu Shusheng (Ming Dynasty)

The Red Peony

Voluptuous green so leisurely and tranquil

and robe of red now light, now dark

heart of the flower sadness about to break

but how could we know this from such spring colors.

–Wang Wei (Tang Dynasty)

Drinking with Friends Amongst the Blooming Peonies

We had a drinking party to admire the peonies.

I drank cup after cup till I was drunk.

Then to my shame I heard the flowers whisper,

“What are we doing, blooming for these old alcoholics?”

–Ling Huchu (Tang Dynasty)

Matching Premier Linghu’s “Taking Leave of the Peonies”

In my official mansion, a balustrade of flowers.

But when it’s time for them to bloom, I’m always away from home!

Do not say the Twin Capitals are not far distant parted.

The springtime brilliance beyond my gate is the very abyss of Heaven.

–Liu Yushi (Tang Dynasty)

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