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A Tale of 50 Peonies

Last Wednesday, we saw record-breaking high temperatures in western Wisconsin, followed by a night of horrific and terrifying wind. Most of you experienced it right along with me. All of this weather was predicted, and so most people spent the last few hours of warmth on Wednesday evening tying down their Christmas decorations, or bringing lightweight items inside for the night.

That's what I should have been doing. But where did I find myself at 6pm on Wednesday evening? In the mud, on my hands and knees, with a headlight fastened to my cap.

The story of how I got myself in such a situation is unusual, and quite amusing. To begin, I have to go back a few months. One sticky July evening, I was in front of my computer, placing my peony order. Now most of you are probably familiar with #peonies . . . the fluffy, gorgeous, breathtaking blooms which show up around here in early June. They make their grand entrance, show off for awhile, and then leave just as quickly as they came.

Here's a peony on the left-- the big pink blooms, just about to open up.

I've been wanting to invest in peonies for awhile now, and frankly, should have done it long ago. The benefits of having peonies are immense, for once established, these plants can persist for decades. But, alas, as you might guess, peony roots, even in bulk and at wholesale prices, are quite expensive ($10ish each) and it can really add up quickly. But, it was time to go for it, and so, I placed my order for 50 peony roots, along with a few other miscellaneous bulbs.

As the fall of 2021 approached, we began to see some shipping complications come into view, and I hoped and prayed that my peony order would arrive in time to get

them in the ground before it was frozen. I prepared the beds, dug the holes, and waited. And as you may have read in an earlier post, they DID arrive in early November, and we got them planted without a glitch.

I thought that was the end of my peony story, but it was just the beginning. On Black Friday night (in a moment you'll see how ironic this is), we arrived home to find two boxes sitting by the garage-- a delivery. I was puzzled because I wasn't expecting anything, but when I saw they were addressed to Schell Farm Gardens, I figured they must be some tulip bulbs which had been backordered. We carried the boxes inside, opened them, and found a crate of 50 peony roots. The other box held miscellaneous bulbs. It was the exact order which had arrived a few weeks prior! For a moment I wondered if I had ordered more peonies in my sleep. I even walked outside to the newly planted peony patch, and counted the mounds of dirt up to 50. I thought I must be losing my mind.

But no, it was just a mistake. They had sent me the same order twice. Because it was the weekend, I had to wait until Monday morning to contact the company. And come Monday morning, I called them-- I wanted to be sure that I wasn't charged twice. They apologized for having sent a duplicate order, emailed me the return shipping label, and said someone would come for the boxes the next day.

The next day, no one came. I emailed the company to let them know . . . they said someone would come the following day. No one came. This went on for a few days in a row. We happened to be going through a little warm spell, and this was about the time that the little angel and the little devil appeared on my shoulders.

Here's the thing about peonies: as long as you can get a shovel in the ground, you can plant them any time of the year.

Imagine me standing at the window, gazing at those boxes sitting outside day after day.

Devil: "Surely, they won't want them back after they've sat here for practically a week! They can't sell that product! You should just plant them now while you can!"

Angel: "Those peony roots are NOT yours. You can't plant them. And what would you do then if they DID show up for them? Dig them back up?"

Devil: "It's December in Wisconsin, and the ground isn't frozen! This was meant to be! After all, it's not your fault they duplicated the order."

Angel: "You would feel so guilty, you wouldn't sleep. And then you'd end up paying them for 50 more peonies that you don't even need. And where would you even plant them? All of your flower beds are either full or have plans to be full soon."

This went on and on in my mind, but ultimately, those boxes stayed right at their post, tightly taped shut. If you know me, you know that I like to follow the rules.

Sunrise, sunset, it rained, it snowed, it melted, it snowed again, and still, no one came for those peonies. By now the ground was frozen again, and I'd moved on to other things. Those boxes began to blend right in to the point that we didn't even notice they were sitting there anymore.

At this point, it was mid-December. Paul mentioned that maybe I should email again and let them know that still, no one had come for them. Pretty soon the cardboard would disintegrate. So I sent yet another email last Wednesday morning, and then went about my day.

On Wednesday afternoon, I was waiting in the car for my kids who had activities at church, when I got an email back from the company. A brief apology, and then, to put some finality to the situation, they asked me if I could just dispose of the boxes. Actually the exact words were: "You can just dump the product."

It wasn't until the 20 minute drive home from Sparta that I processed everything. Dump the product... what a shame... It hurt my heart to think about throwing hundreds of dollars over the fence if there was any way to make use of even half of it. And then it hit me: We had just had a day of temps in the 60s-- which NEVER happens here in December. The snow had melted away. I was just sure I could dig.

The radio was on and the weather came on, reminding me of the high-wind warning in place starting at 6pm. I glanced at the clock. 5:09. It was dark, my kids were hungry and fighting in the back, but my mind was reeling. I literally had maybe an hour to get this done before dangerous weather moved in. Overnight the temps would drop drastically and the extended forecast showed consistent temps below freezing. It was now or never. I could just picture the little devil and angel, hovering together, cheering me on.

On the way home, I stopped at my parents' house. When my mom came to the door, I was out of breath. "Can I borrow. that. headlight thing. you have?" She smiled, brought it for me, and didn't ask any questions. I peeled out of their driveway-- this was the first time I had "peeled out" of anywhere in my life-- and raced home.

Thanks to my oldest daughter, everyone got a sandwich, so I could get straight to it. I changed, grabbed a tape measure, my shovel, and ripped open that box. I was thrilled to see that the peony roots were still salvageable.

Thanks to my little brother, I had the perfect spot to put them. He had plowed a strip for me two weeks earlier, during that first warm spell. That area was supposed to be for planting something else in the spring, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I'll figure it out later.

And thanks to Paul, we got done before the wind picked up. He arrived home after work, grabbed another shovel, and joined me, using the headlights on the car to help with the light issue. He even took a few pictures of me kneeling in the mud, by the light of our vehicle.

The adrenaline was pumping and every peony found a home that evening. We even got the miscellaneous bulbs planted. They spent their first night all tucked in while 60 mph wind gusts pummeled the region. The next morning, winter temperatures were back, like they should be. The ground is frozen once again, and life is back to normal.

So if you're in the market for say, some pink peonies, in June of 2023, you'll know where to find them. Right about then, they should be thriving. In the meantime, I'm sure getting a kick out of my peony story-- A Tale of 50 Peonies. It's the best Black Friday deal I've ever gotten.


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