It is said that mischievous nymphs hide amid the petals of the Peony thereby causing this lovely blossom to symbolize bashfulness. The flower was named after Pæon, a physician to the gods, who obtained the plant on Mount Olympus from the mother of Apollo. A student under Aesculapius, god of medicine, Pæon was well aware of the medicinal qualities of peony plants. He used them to heal a wound suffered by the god, Pluto. The upstaged Aesculapius wasn’t pleased and threatened retribution, but, Pluto saved Pæon’s life: he turned him into a plant. What a pal.
The Peony is a plant which can boast one of the longest histories of human cultivation on the planet. It has been raised in China as an ornamental flower for millennia and is treasured throughout the far east for its beauty. The Chinese city of Luoyang has had a reputation as the cultivation center for peonies for centuries. For countless generations peonies in Luoyang have been said to be the finest in the country. The annual peony exhibitions that take place there are spectacular events that draw people from around the country. In China the Peony is also prized for its medicinal value – white peony root is still used to treat liver problems there, as well as in many other parts of the world.
This hardy plant makes its appearance in the Conservatory Garden in early June and lasts all the way through September. Its bountiful blossoms have a lovely scent and the nectar on the buds are an irresistible draw for ants. They are herbaceous perennial plants that grow to one to two feet tall. Once planted Peonies like to be left alone and tend to get even with anyone who tries to move them by not flowering again for several years. Once established, however, they produce gorgeous blooms every summer for decades. The Central Park Peonies are particularly beautiful in July as they add their own generously sized and brightly colored blossoms to the mid-summer festival of riotous color that graces the South, or English Garden.
So, nymphs or no nymphs the Peony is an engagingly fragrant addition to the Conservatory Garden and a beautiful grace note to the flower beds that surround the Secret Garden Statue beside the Lily Pond Pool.
One of the hidden wonders of Central Park is the Conservatory Garden at Fifth Avenue and 105th St. A secluded oasis, just a few steps down from one of the City’s busiest thoroughfares; the garden offers a fragrant respite from the gasp and clatter of the urban afternoon.