Category Archives: peonies

three-quarters sick of rain. year at this time I wrote about New Harmony’s glorious peony fields.  Today I walked over — with wellington boots, raincoat and umbrella in a downpour — to see them.  The buds, just ready to burst, are in fear of their lives as the water rises.  It is predicted that it will crest tomorrow or Monday so perhaps not too much harm will be done.  The crops in the fields may be a literal washout, and my (old) beehives are being threatened as well. 


It’s May, which in my corner of Utopia means peonies. We have the great good fortune of living on the corner of Fragrant Farms, who grow peonies for market — blooms and plants to ship around the country. So on one side of my cabin are corn or soy fields, and the other side, acres of peonies. In May, they are ablaze and the colors and scents are staggering. We are repeatedly invited by Mrs Jane Owen, the owner of this glory, to pick as many full blown blooms as we please (the buds are shipped out, the full blooms are past that) and so the house, as I write this, is delicious with the un-reproducible scent of pure peony. Bouquets everywhere. When I say un-reproducible, I so wish that you could have peony-in-a-bottle for November, but of course that would make it less sublime when May rolled around again.

As I am a rather pathetic photographer, I have only shown you the deep pink peonies as the white ones don’t perform so well for my camera. So just as there are fields of this magenta, there are other blocks of palest pink, white, and candy pink. Heaven.

May in Chicago

I’ve been writing a lot about rural bliss, but this past weekend in Chicago was one of those times when urban culture was at its most vibrant. The day was gloriously sunny & cool and all of Chicago seemed to be celebrating the opening of the new Modern Wing at the Art Institute. We were there to celebrate the graduation of our son Will from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and this event was timed to engage the opening fesitivites at the Museum. Set in the Frank Gehry-designed titanium pavilion at Millennium Park, we were across a bustling, pulsing street (how Monroe has changed!) from Piano’s stunning building, and the face-to-face between the park and the museum were perfect and thrilling.

Will and his fellow BFA and MFA recipients marched across the stage as music echoed against the glimmering surface. Renzo Piano, who gave the commencement address, spoke of the values of stubbornness, “soft” intelligence, and listening without necessarily obeying. I sat in the sun feeling so lucky lucky lucky to be a part of this magnificence.

Then we were all invited to join the throngs at the opening of the new wing. I thought it too was thrilling. The ceilings are scrim, above that fabric is lovely gridwork of hanging devices I should by now know the names of, above all of that, glass. The effect of the light was softened but pure and white. And I loved it as a large, 3-D textile.

The art looked scrumptious. It reminded me in many ways of why I live to be an artist. The work that is staying with me after that day in the galleries are Cy Twombly’s large paintings of peonies. Made me want to work LARGE. And after reveling in their lushness, I was brought home at the end of the weekend to the still-blooming, deeply perfumed peony fields of Fragrant Farms, just east of my home.