ALL THE OLD FAMILIAR FACES (and a couple we miss)

Rosa 'Madame Alfred Carriere'
May brings the return of longed-for friends.  Their time with us is fleeting, especially when a heat wave accelerates their season, but whatever its duration the visit lifts our spirits immeasurably.  Tall bearded irises take the stage first, overdressed grande dames that make up for in color what they lack in flexibility. 
Tall Bearded Iris, name unknown
This spring the best performer among the lot was an unknown bi-color I call, imaginatively, “Church Iris,” in appreciation of the small Unitarian garden I once tended.  (If any reader recognizes the cultivar from the picture included here, please send me a comment.)  
Roses follow, the original cast of own-root heirlooms joined by newcomers like thornless ‘Zepherine Drouhin,’ and vigorous scarlet climber ‘Cadenza.’ ‘Cadenza’ is already making a start at masking the chain-link fence. 
Several clematis have settled in well with the pillars and climbers and have clambered up the canes to find the sun: fair-faced maidens like ‘Silver Moon,’ the blue-hued white ‘Huldine,’ and magenta ‘Ville de Lyon.’  The most appreciated bloomers this spring may be the southern peonies.  These two plants were dug up from the front yard where their distinctive foliage crept above-ground during a lull between mowings.  My sharp-eyed neighbor spotted them from his kitchen window about the same time I did, and with his encouragement I dug them up three autumns past and planted them in my sunny border.
Clematis 'Silver Moon'
Rosa 'Souvenir du Dr. Jamain'
Peonies take a prodigiously long time to get accustomed to a site, and longer still to bloom well, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover both plants bristling with buds earlier this spring.  I was even more delighted when the buds opened into shaggy-headed blossoms the size of small cabbages.  When they started to open I guessed they might be an old strain of ‘Festiva Maxima,’ the commonest and one of the best-performing peonies in southern climes, but ‘Festiva’ has flecks and streaks of crimson on its white leaves, and these flowers are snow-white with only a reddish stamen at the center.  

Southern peonies with 'Gladiator' allium and Japanese maple
It’s likely that these are more of the long-enduring survivors from the garden planted and tended by the Thomas* sisters on this lot decades ago. (See an earlier post, ‘The Best Gardener in Traveler’s Joy’ for more on these ladies).  That would explain why they are much better adapted to my stone-hard clay and climate than the pair of peonies I introduced – despite the fact that early May ushered in a string of sweltering, rainless days better suited to August than mid-spring, these rediscovered divas bloomed lavishly, with nary a bead of sweat in sight. 
 My modern peonies didn't produce a single bud.  Weaklings, both.
Unnamed southern peony

One familiar face that was missing this season was the one we shall miss the most.  In April our neighbor Steve S. sold the house where he’d lived for 47 years and moved across the river to Tomahawk County’s* seat.  (Again, refer to ‘The Best Gardener in Traveler’s Joy.’  That post profiles Steve and his wondrous garden. ) He had good reasons for making the change; however, he was a wonderful neighbor and a valued gardening pal, and we miss him terribly, along with his surviving cat Dolly.  (Dolly’s sister Molly died this past winter.)

Rosa 'Veilchenblau' on a May Morning
For me, the lesson of these last few months has been to appreciate the goodness while you’ve got it.  Nothing is for keeps, and that’s true for people and for pets as well as peony flowers. 

Meanwhile, I’m trying to learn the peony’s secret to longevity.  It may hinge on soil pH and sunlight hours but from what I’ve witnessed it essentially boils down to never giving up. That’s also a lesson I’m taking to heart. 

Steve & Molly, bless her heart