Peonies should be gathered in the early morning. This lush flower is ready to be cut when buds begin to show color and soften and feel like firm marshmallows. Cut stems at an angle and place in cool water. Change the water and trim the stems daily. Opening buds will last a week or more; fully unfurled blooms, a day or two.
Here, Martha put together a lush arrangement of green hydrangea and two types of pink peonies. She is working on another smaller arrangement with just one type of pink peony.
When it comes to displaying lush, dome-shaped blooms -- dahlias, garden roses, gardenias, camellias, or the peonies shown here -- less is often more. Float a few big blossoms in a generous-size bowl or single ones in smaller vessels. Cut the stems at a slant, about an inch below the bloom, just before floating in tepid water.
This Japanese bowl was given to Martha many years ago, and is perfectly suited for displaying peonies. "When I received it, I had never seen a yellow, peach, or mauve tree peony, but obviously the painter of the bowl had," says Martha. "Finally my tree peonies matured and now provide blooms of almost the same colors."
A vintage tole basket makes a charming container for these pink peonies framed by broad hosta leaves. Because the metal basket isn't watertight, we hid water-filled jars inside it to hold the flowers. Although built one stem at a time, this is a quick and casual arrangement: Start with the largest blooms and tuck in the hosta leaves last.
Occasions such as Mother's Day call for the floral equivalent of a big hug. Candy colors, mixed textures, and varied sizes radiate homey spontaneity, especially when the "vase" is endearingly improvised from a flea market find. A yellow teapot, with ample room for water below a narrow opening, becomes the perfect vessel for clasping a generous bunch of tulips, hyacinths, peonies, and, of course, forget-me-nots.
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