They Remind Me of My Grandmother

Posted by Erin Howe on

Looking up at a peony plant at the sky from below

“They remind me of my grandmother.” I’ve heard this, or variations of it, hundreds of times now, from anyone who finds out that I grow peonies. “They were her favorite flower.” I love hearing these stories so much, watching the face of the grandchild, the niece, the daughter, soften with memory.

Peonies have never reminded me of either of my grandmothers. They both lived in South Carolina, where tradition holds they can’t be successfully grown. One of my grandmothers grew gerbera daisies, and those remind me of her. The other kept her yard impeccably landscaped, and spaces like that make me think of her.

My one remaining grandmother passed away last week. We’d had her 100th birthday in December and, just three months later, she was gone. I’ve spent the past week at her funeral and visiting with family. When I returned to my farm, the very first coral peonies were in bloom. I’d missed the beginning of peony season, and missed sharing it with you! How would I explain, I wondered.

Then, suddenly, I remembered being a little girl, standing in the foyer of my grandmother’s home. She had a fresh flower arrangement on a side table there. I remember thinking that it was the height of elegance to spend some of the time and energy it takes to prepare for visitors, creating something temporary and just strictly beautiful.

I asked her how to learn flower arranging, and she, in her typically breezy, understated way, said, “Oh, you just get some flowers and start messing around with them.” She didn’t mention the years she spent as a professional florist, and all the training and practice she’d had. From then on, whenever I thought about what I wanted to do with my life, it always included, “have a little house and a big cutting garden where I can cut flowers to mess around with.”

So the cutting garden may have gotten a little out of hand. It’s about three acres now. There are many reasons why I farm, many people who fostered the love of plants in a dreamy, dirty nature child. But with the memory of her life fresh in my mind, I saw that there was a direct line from my elegant grandmother to my flower farm. It seemed fitting to come home from her memorial services to find my flowers beginning to bloom.

And finally I realize that I’m one of you after all, those who see peonies and remember. It’s lovely, isn’t it? To see the fancy frilly petals, smell the unmatchable fragrance, and think, “They remind me of my grandmother.”


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