Saturday, May 1, 2010

The month of the Moutan

White tree peonies, their golden anthers shimmering against the milky white petals flecked with rosy pink.
On my early morning walks, I've been admiring the unfurling blooms of tree peonies opening up in many gardens in my neighborhood. I love their fleeting beauty; their fragile, golden anthers and their huge, silky petals gently fluttering in the breeze, reminding of how many of the precious things in life are only momentary, passing.
Originating from the mountains of China and Tibet, tree peonies have been loved and cultivated by the Chinese for at least 1,500 years. In the Chinese calendar, each month is represented by a flower. The fourth month, beginning in early May, is the month of the Moutan, the tree peony. Tree peonies are often called an imperial flower, and it is not only because of their magnificent blooms. Already during the Sui dynasty (589-618), Emperor Yang Ti placed the plant under imperial protection, and many select varieties were selling for up to a hundred ounces of gold per plant. Since the tree peony was called 'the King of Flowers', it was a natural favorite of the emperors, who planted thousands of Moutans in their imperial gardens.
In Chinese art, tree peonies represent spring, and the scholars of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) attributed it the qualities of prosperity, vitality, opulence, and the active male principle of the universe. Already during the Tang dynasty (618-907), the Moutan was celebrate in poetry, song and painting, and there is an abundant literature describing the many varieties in detail. Also the Japanese loved the beauty of the tree peonies, which they call the Botan, arranging 'peony-gazing' celebrations when they where in full bloom. An excellent idea to take after, and since I unfortunately don't have any Moutans in my garden, I'm open for invitations...
The deep green foliage is quiet and reposeful,
The petals are clad in various shades of red;
The pistil droops with melancholy -
Wondering if spring knows her intimate thoughts.
Wang Wei, AD 699-731, translated by A. Waley.
Thank you to my mother-in-law, MaryLou, for kindly sending me the article "Moutan" by Peter Smithers, in Arts of Asia, vol 14, 1984. If you are interested in reading more about Moutans, I recommend Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall's lovely book "Peonies, the imperial flower" (1999) which is extremely well-researched and -written and has beautiful photos and illustrations. All photos in this post were taken by me and show Moutans flowering for the moment in my neighborhood.


nilla|utanpunkt said...

En mycket poetisk presentation!

Jag har aldrig vågat mig på pioner, kanske är min trädgård också för liten - de stora blommorna kräver lite perspektiv och rymd för att komma till sin rätt och bli just poetiska, inte bara "showiga".

Ruben said...

Intressant läsning - och väldigt vackra foton. Efter att ha läst detta kommer jag att göra en djup bugning nästa gån jag passerar min trädpion. Ha det gott! /Ruben

Carol said...

Yesterday while on the phone with a friend, I had to ask her to let me call right back, as I needed to run into the garden to take a picture of my "Moutan" in the various stages of opening... I can see it now drooping a bit in the rain. I do so love the Tree Peony too. I am calling my library today for the book you mention. I love that the article from 'Arts of Asia' was written in 1984 the same year as "Mr. Pearl" began his garden! Your blog is additive . . . all of your posts being gems of enlightenment! ;>)

Sophia Callmer said...

Spännande att läsa! trädpioner är fantastiska tycker jag, har nyligen följt en trädgård med en stor, gammal buskpion, var vacker året runt, varje årstid på sitt sätt förstås. /Sophia