A love with roots: Peonies bring joy to 91-year-old woman

<p>Rocky Wilson/Chieftain</p> <p> </p> <p>Anne Oveson, 91, says she likes to spend about six hours each day in her peony garden either weeding or sitting to joy her little Eden. Oveson not only enjoys the flowers, but takes pleasure monitoring movement of quail that enjoy cover the garden supplies to them.</p>

Rural Wallowa’s Anne Oveson says her love for peonies began more than three decades ago after her beloved husband Crawford passed away.

Since then, the lady who’s now nearly 92 years old has created a large peony garden that flashes with brilliant pink, yellow, white, dark red, and rose-colored flowers for 2 ½ months every year.

Most people who grow peonies consistently say that peonies are very attractive, but that their beauty is short-lived.

But that’s where Anne Oveson has an edge. In her peony garden that’s possibly 100 feet x 200 feet in size, she says she now has perhaps 400 plants and about 100 different varieties among them.

She agrees that individual peony flowers in their radiant color might only last about one week, yet states the blooms on one plant arrive at staggered times. Couple that with the fact Anne has 100 different varieties that bloom on different dates, and the length of her personal peony-growing season is better understood.

Anne thinks the mild winter was a key factor as to why this year’s peony crop in her garden began blooming in early May instead of the late May/early June norm.

With only one plant in full bloom and individual, colorful flowers scattered throughout the spacious garden recently, it was obvious the flowering season in Anne Oveson’s peony garden was nearing an end.

This year, Anne took the time to place 300 small plastic markers by individual peony plants in her garden before abandoning her desire to accurately document the total number of peony plants she has.

With a smile, Anne says she often spends about six hours a day in her peony garden, both weeding and sitting to enjoy the ambiance.

For those who walk Anne Oveson’s garden with her, it’s the comfort and joy she exudes while sharing her personal paradise that stands out.

She’s quick to talk about two families of quail that enjoy the cover afforded by what’s primarily a sea of thigh-level greenery and flowers. The lady who says her eyesight remains good enough for reading, spots two adult quail scurrying at a distance along the edge of Dougherty Loop, where she lives. Anne immediately segues to an earlier sight where one mother quail was seen parading in her garden with 12 chicks in tow. “The eggs must be pretty small for one mother to sit on them,” she says.

Peony flowers can be grown from seed, starts, or can be transplanted, although successfully transplanting peonies can be challenging, she says.

Possibly Anne’s beginning with peonies was stimulated by the fact there are so many different varieties of wild peonies that are indigenous to the area.

A longtime member of the American Peony Society, seven years ago Anne Oveson – who then reportedly had 300 varieties of peonies in her garden – attracted a botanist from the Institute of Botany of the Chinese Academy of Sciences to Wallowa County. Working on a global research project, that botanist came here to study the presence of wild peonies evident in pastures throughout the county.

As recently as early last spring, Anne’s granddaughter Lynique Oveson, also of rural Wallowa, took her grandmother to a national peony convention held in Portland. Anne cut three of the earliest peonies showing up in her garden at that time and left them in a vase at the convention, with no intent of entering them competitively.

It wasn’t until about one month later that Anne Oveson, while reading a newsletter published by the American Peony Society, learned she was one of only seven prize-winners from possibly 200 entrants at the Portland show.

To this day, Anne does not know who entered her peonies in the contest.

Some varieties of peonies in Oveson’s garden stretch the imagination.

She planted one variety by seed about 15 years ago, a lutea peony, that now stands nearly 6 feet tall, has fragrant yellow flowers, and has some stems so heavy that they fall to the ground.

Blooms on another variety Anne has are as big as 8 inches in diameter.

While walking through her large-sized garden, Anne Oveson bends and points to different plants she appears to know on a personal basis.

One peony Anne reaches down and pulls to full height, maybe 20 inches at most, is the smallest peony this experienced peony lover says she has ever seen. She says she will contact the Peony Society and get it registered.

Apparently there’s a network of friends that’s focused around the niche hobby of raising different varieties of peonies. Anne says a friend of hers, living at a distant locale in Oregon, developed a hybrid peony and named it Anne Oveson.

Google “Anne Oveson peony” and you’ll learn much about a variety of peony available through many flower seed catalogues.

Maintenance for peonies, other than weeding, is a relatively simple task, she says. Anne utilizes a nearby well, above-ground plastic sprinkler pipes, and standing metal sprinklers to water her crop only two or three times per summer. Other than that, major maintenance comes before the snow flies when Anne routinely spends two to three days with pruning sheers cutting the peony plants down to ground level.

Because seeds falling from plants regularly generate volunteer peonies that grow outside the rows she has laid out, Oveson says she often calls on her daughter Carolyn Thomas and husband Darrell, who live on the property with Anne, to help transplant those starts.

Anne laments the fact that a soil disease, one that selectively attacks some plants (including peonies) is in the soil of her garden actively creating some brown spots that are more noticeable to her than to many others who stop to enjoy the scenery.

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