Having teenaged daughters has helped me rediscover my feminism. Writers like Caitlin Moran and Laura Bates have guided me. A BBC documentary series called No More Boys and Girls was game-changing. I realised all the myriad ways we hold boys and girls back and stop them reaching their own true potential. We believe that girls aren’t as physically strong, even though they are. We teach boys to suppress their feelings and deny them a vocabulary to describe their emotional experiences. We limit girls’ ambitions by putting them in clothes that prevent them from climbing trees, and plaster them in slogans that suggest their life’s ambition should be to be a princess.
I have had a book on my reading list for a while called Why I am no longer talking to white people about race. It is about the insidious racism that is very much alive and well in our society, but that we often deny.
I, as a white person, cannot possibly appreciate the ways in which subtle messages about race permeate a black person’s life. I don’t know how irritating it is to have people wanting to touch your hair, or telling you black people have a good sense of rhythm. I don’t know what it feels like to be invisible in many areas of the media, higher education, the Royal Family and politics.
If a white person discusses race with a black person, the black person (and forgive the pun) has more skin in the game. It matters more, because it hurts more.
Similarly, if a woman discusses sexual harassment with a man, she is more likely to get angry and emotional, because it hurts more.
It hurts when people deny that we have a problem with sexism or racism, or the way we view disability or sexuality or age or left-handedness. If we are not in the minority, we probably have a limited awareness of the subtle forms of discrimination.
So the solution, I think, is to listen. And read Girl Up and Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race.
Why did I go on a feminism and racism tangent? Because a lot of stories in the media have wound me up in the last week. We have a long way to go. We need change, and we need to listen.
And I have been thinking about intersectional feminism and intersectional peonies. Intersection being a crossroads, a meeting place, a way of taking a new direction.
There are 3 types of peony.
These are shrub-like in stature, a metre or so high and wide, but die back completely in the winter. Herbaceous peonies produce great blowsy blooms, like 1950s starlets, with layers of soft chiffon or silken ruffled petals. They are associated with an old fashioned sort of femininity, evocative of powder puffs and full petticoats. Their bosomy plumpness can require some trussing and support.
As the name would suggest, these are taller, and retain a stem in winter. Their foliage is even more exotic than their herbaceous cousins, like someone has folded up each leaf, gone a little bit crazy with the scissors, then shaken them out with a flourish, to reveal their shaggy fans. The flowers of tree peonies have a lighter, more zingy and tropical feel, with a wider colour range. If herbaceous peonies are housewives in chiffon nighties, then tree peonies are power-dressing sisters doing it for themselves. No support is needed.
Intersectional peonies, also known as Itoh peonies, are a cross between the two. They are bushy like a shrub, but have the laser-cut foliage and startling flowers of tree peonies. They come in bright and light shades, often with a deeply contrasting corona around the centre of the bloom. These peonies also support themselves. They can be anything they want to be. They are gender-neutral.
So this is why I am exploring the world of intersectional peonies.
‘Garden Treasure’ is my first yellow peony. It has soft yellow petals, golden yellow stamens, with a corona of marmalade orange and fresh green carpels. The green carpels really make this one. There is something prehistoric and savage about their ripe succulence. I planted this late, in February, and it doesn’t have any flowerbuds on this year, so I will have to be patient.
Callie’s Memory is a lovely soft apricot, with wine-coloured staining at the base of each petal, along with a picotee edge to the petals. There are the golden stamens and green carpels at the centre. I have one flower on my new plant, and it is looking a little skinny and angular at present. I wonder if it will fill out and get more confident with age?
‘Cora Louise’ has white petals with magenta staining at the centre. I have a few small flowerbuds on this, but I am going to have to be patient.
Not so with ‘Watermelon Wine’. I chose this peony on a whim, because my daughter is obsessed by watermelon (the taste, the texture, the colour, the scent). I love to have plants I associate with particular people.
In early spring, the foliage looked so tender and raw:
The fans of foliage unfurled. They were stunning when caught in the morning sun.
Where herbaceous peonies have round, drumstick buds, intersectional peonies have buds that are pointed and arranged in a meringue-swirl.
The sepals parted, like a secret-service gadget, to reveal a flash of silk. Notice too the intricate veining of the leaves, and the darker pigmentation around the edges.
And then the flower broke free. I was standing by it when one the petals gave a little defiant flick, and opened wider.
Intersectional peonies tend to have a couple of layers of petals (doubles) rather than the many layers of herbaceous peonies. This makes the flowers lighter and freer. Because they have fewer petals, you can see the carpels and stamens more easily. This one reminded me of prawns and noodles in a bowl. But wait…no…are they slices of watermelon?
These are the structures closer up. The green carpels at the centre are the female part, with a sticky landing pad, the stigma, and the waiting ovaries beneath. The golden stamens are around the edge. These are the male part, providing pollen. The pollen is transferred by insects from the stamens to the stigma. To create a new hybrid, you can dust the pollen from one peony onto the stigma of a different peony.
At the moment, the blooms are at the raspberry end of watermelon. The petals will fade a little towards the edges. I will post more pictures as they change.
This is a highly-scented peony. My Super-Taster (and therefore Super-Sniffer) daughter identified cloves, with a hint of other spices like cumin and turmeric. It is definitely a pleasant smell.
Like herbaceous peonies, once the flowers are over, the foliage will provide a handsome backdrop for other plants through the summer. I must say, the foliage has blown me away with its beauty. It is even more intricate and delicate than that of the herbaceous peony.
The only maintenance needed is for the foliage to be removed in autumn, and perhaps a mulch layer, kept away from the growing crown.
Intersectional peonies are the future. I will be actively encouraging them into the garden, and then they will show me the way to go. There are new possibilities. We can go on a journey together.
Have you grown tree peonies or intersectional peonies? Which ones would you recommend?
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