MARILYN HAGERTY: Peonies color the prairies
You do not tweak them. You do not plead or start crying.
… You just wait until a peony is ready to bloom in full glory. And sponsors of the Peony Show coming up here on Wednesday are biding their time. They are hoping for a flow of beautiful peonies to show up between 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Gazebo of the Myra Museum, 2405 Belmont Road. Judging will be held at 7 p.m., and prizes will be awarded.
With the revival of the Peony Show, the North Dakota Museum of Art on the UND campus will display its amazing collection of more than 120 peonies. And serve refreshments.
Peonies were on the mind of Laurel Reuter, the museum’s director, when it was established 25 years ago.
She was thinking of the settlers who brought with them a few books, an occasional musical instrument and plant cuttings dominated by peonies and lilacs.
Today many of the old gardens have returned to prairie, leaving only an occasional peony or lilac bush. But North Dakota Museum of Art is ringed with one of the most extensive displays of peonies.
There’s a Toro-No-Maki peony of Japanese origin, a Susie Q Double along with a Fairy’s Petticoat double peony developed by Carl G. Klehm.
Before establishment of the Museum’s garden of peonies, New Yorker Richard Nonas was commissioned to create a sculpture garden that would define the building as a museum. And he was asked to create an area for planting a specimen peony garden. The planting of the peonies was done by Laurel Reuter in memory of the settlers, including her own ancestors.
In designing the peony gardens, the New York artist circled the museum with upright marking stones, each accompanied by a horizontal bench or a plot that would hold six peonies. The design called for 40 upright boulders, 20 benches, 20 peony beds, each housing six peonies.
“The benches are more visual than comfortable,” Reuter says, “but children have found the upright stones suitable for climbing.”
In making the peony list, Reuter first went to the late Harold Thomforde of Crookston, widely recognized as a judge at national peony shows. His list was forwarded to Greta Kessenich, a longtime secretary of the American Peony Society in Minneapolis. She brought the list to 120 hybrids and species.
Then Reuter remembers taking the list to Frances Kannowski. She was a former superintendent of parks in Grand Forks well-known for her love of peonies.
There was help from growers who could locate hard-to-find peonies. Each year, those peonies come into full glory in June. And they continue to reflect beauty in their green plants until snow turns the landscape white.