Instead of Flowers, Get Mom a Plant For Mothers’ Day

It’s standard practice to get your mom flowers for Mother’s Day, and for years, I’ve kept with tradition. When I was a child, I’d pick daffodils and tulips from the front yard, and once I got my first job, I was able to upgrade to beautiful bouquets of baby’s breath and lilies. My mother’s smile upon recieving nature’s delicate bounty is one of the prettiest sights there is – so the sight of crinkled, dead flowers a week later makes for an unpleasant contrast.

This year, I decided to give my mom a Mother’s Day gift that would keep on giving: a long-living, resilient, gorgeous bush named Paeonia suffruticosa, otherwise known as the tree peony. The tree peony originated in China, where its immense popularity has earned it the noble title, “the king of flowers.” This year, nothing less than this regal plant would be suitable for the most important person in my life.

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An exotic, uncommon species, the tree peony doesn’t come cheap: most young plants cost between 70 and 100 dollars, with uncommon colors like yellow and burgundy fetching higher prices than their paler kin. Don’t look for them in big-box home and garden stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s – the best specimens come from local nurseries. For my mom’s tree peony, I visited Sun Nurseries, a family-run plant purveyor a thirty-minutes’ drive from my parents’ home in Maryland. Their offerings included the plump, purple Karl Rosenfield, the soft pink Shirley Temple, and the classic Sarah Bernhardt, so named for the famous French actress. I opted for the Shirley Temple: not too showy, not too timid, with a palette complimentary to the azaleas and hydrangeas my mom has already planted.

Tree peonies take considerable time to reach their prime (about three years), but reward their tenders’ patience with ample blooms which intensify and flourish over a hundred-year lifespan. Considering their superb hardiness and their ability to grow in both sun and shade, the tree peony is a worthwhile investment – so long as you’re absolutely certain of the location. Tree peonies are very testy when it comes to being transplanted, and an unsuccessful or ill-advised transplant that endangers the plant far more frequently than a tough freeze or a curious deer. Therefore, when buying a tree peony for mom (or anyone else), make sure to have a permanent home in mind. When I surprised mom with the news that I’d bought her a Shirley Temple peony, she had no clue where to put it; this is another reason to work with family-run nurseries, who can keep plants on hold until the gardener formulates his or her plan.

Flowers come and go, and even the prettiest bouquet fades before long. A gorgeous, long-lived flowering bush like Paeonia suffruticosa extends the gesture of giving mom flowers on Mother’s Day well past the second Sunday in May, giving her a sight to behold – and more importantly, a symbol of your love  – for years to come. And whose mom doesn’t deserve that?

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