July 2019 – Karen Scott
Sweet Memories of Peonies
It’s interesting, the things that trigger childhood memories– a special flavor, a few lines of a song, an old photograph. For Karen Scott, that trigger is peonies. Whenever she sees them, warm memories flood back of her family farm in Vars, a rural community east of Ottawa. Over a dozen peony plants bloomed near the farmhouse there each spring, as well as lilacs. More specifically, she remembers her mom. The peonies at the farm always bloomed in late June, the same time as her mother’s birthday.
To this day, Karen continues to love those big, frilly flowers that provide such a short burst of showy color before their petals drop or get unceremoniously drenched in rain. That’s why it was such an easy decision for her to volunteer to join the Peony Team at the Central Experimental Farm (CEF) just before she retired from her desk job in September 2015.
Every spring since then, she heads out on her bike once a week to help at the Farm. The Peony Team is a particularly busy one in springtime, as there are over 600 peonies spread across twelve beds. Some are heritage and award-winning ones. They include 105 different peony cultivars introduced by A.P. Saunders, son of the first director of the CEF, Dr. William Saunders.
Karen has learned a lot about peonies since joining the team, including ideal spacing for these perennials that need cold winters to survive, and how to transplant them and trim them back in fall. She also enjoys the social aspect of gardening as part of a team and loves being outdoors as an amateur gardener: “It’s good for the soul to get your hands a little dirty. It’s also very rewarding when you see things come up the next year.”
Her passion for gardening extends beyond the Peony Team. She tends annual flowers around her own terrace home– impatiens, petunias and pansies. She also helps care for the gardens at St. Thomas the Apostle in Alta Vista where she worships and volunteers.
Fortunately for her church community, Peony Team leader Bill Wegman also grows peonies at home and has been able to donate some extras for planting at the church. Karen is grateful that she has benefited from both his knowledge of peonies as team leader as well as his generosity of spirit.
Beyond peonies, Karen has other fond memories of the Central Experimental Farm. She remembers driving her young daughter there years ago to participate in summer camp with farm animals. She recollects going to the Farm to toboggan down the hills on snowy days with her kids. She remembers showing the Farm to family visiting from out-of-province. When her grandson comes soon, she’ll take him there too.
“The peonies live on,” she laughs, remembering those ones from so long ago, plus the hundreds of peonies that she is surrounded by today in her work as a committed volunteer. So too do the memories.
By Julianne Labreche
Photo by Polly McColl