Tualatin farm offers first blush of summer
Peonies at Birdsong Gardens are blooming, and the Wilds aren't slowing down
Behind the house and under a canopy of evergreens, Ed Wild crouches down in a garden. He looks up and smiles, turning away from the task at hand. A bandana is wrapped around his forehead, keeping the sweat from dripping down his face on the warmest of spring days.
Stump-pulling, he says with a laugh, gesturing to an intricate root system he's just wrestled from the ground. Wild is a week shy of his 83rd birthday, and it's not his first encounter with a roadblock.
The peonies at Birdsong Gardens will be blooming until Memorial Day. The public is invited to visit Birdsong Gardens at 5465 S.W. Prosperity Park Road. Peony bouquets are $10, and potted peonies are $25.
The stump was right where he wanted to put a garden, so it had to go. A few feet to the left of that is a plot he's already tilled and prepared. It will be full of vegetables soon, or all the stuff that kids don't like to eat, as Wild says.
I've been trying to get everything ready, but I'm behind, he says, walking toward the house where his wife, Laura, 83, sits bundling peony clippings. Some discussion ensues over who should give a tour of the peony garden, and it's decided that Ed can do it, even though Laura knows more. They are her flowers, after all.
In 1950, Laura's mother and step-father moved to the Prosperity Park property, which the Wilds transformed into Birdsong Gardens. At the time, there was just a bungalow through the trees in the meadow, and it would be some years before the existing house was built. Ed and Laura were in college in Pasadena, California, at the time. After Ed returned from the Korean War, the couple remained in California to raise their children and didn't have much time for the gardening that so consumes their time today.
Laura bought one peony plant while they lived there, but it didn't make it next to the three kids and dog that she was also trying to keep alive. No, the peonies would come later.
When the Wilds moved to the Tualatin property in 1996, they wanted to make use of the land. The forest behind the house is full of old-growth trees that haven't been touched since the 1930s. In the late '30s, the forest was leveled by a lumbar company, the name of which has since been misplaced. As legend goes, evening crept up as they were chopping the trees down. By the time it grew dark, one remained, and it still stands today. Ed and Laura wanted to take care of the hundreds-of-years-old tree as long as they could.
Ed thinks that's what keeps us going, is that and the tree, said Laura when talking about if she'll ever stop gardening.
Eventually, she thinks she'll have to, of course. And she's come to terms with knowing that somedays she has to do less than others.
I keep asking myself, and I say, 'Well, just keep on going as long as you can,' she said.
Though Laura claims she's not a peony expert, she contains an impressive level of knowledge about the plant. Her interest in them piqued after they'd moved to Oregon. She was at a garden store in Wilsonville when the women she was talking to directed her to the home of Allan Rogers, a guru in the peony field. When Laura saw the peony farm at his house, she knew she would have to grow that flower, too.
I dearly loved the peonies. I had no conception being from California, as to all the different varieties and the shapes of them all. I always thought they were just the pink ones, the big doubles, the red ones, she said. My whole outlook expanded on the different varieties.
In total, 38 varieties of herbaceous peonies are grown at Birdsong, along with an additional five Itohs, which are a cross-bred variety.
As Ed walks through row after row of peonies, he rattles off the names of each of them along with a description. Pink Parfait. Audrey (first to open). Red charm (his favorite). Wine Angel. Cherry Ruffles. Coral Charm (color turns from pink to ivory). Flame. Do Tell. Joker (newly developed variety). Sarah Bernhardt.
The peonies might be Laura's, but Ed seems to know enough about them to talk for days. Though he doesn't hesitate to say, We'll have to ask Laura, if presented with a question he doesn't have the perfect answer for.
The couple banter with each other in a way that opens up the blinds of their past. There is no tilt-of-the-head amazement that they've been married for nearly 62 years. There is only the heartwarming reassurance that their level of joy is possible to maintain.
Neither Ed nor Laura is willing to take the credit for the beauty of their garden. Laura praises Ed for pulling all the weeds and doing general maintenance. Ed laughs and reminds her that she actually planted all the flowers.
I just enjoy getting the place so it looks like somebody lives here. I enjoy maintaining, keeping the yard and the field. I'm way behind, Ed says as he glances over at the presumably weed-ridden garden. I never get up and wonder 'Do I have anything to do today?' I'm shooting for 100 (years old), and at 100, I think I'll sit down and see what I've done.
How to plant peonies:
1) Plant in the fall in a location that receives at least six hours a day of full sunlight.
2) Dig a deep and wide hole. It should be at least one square foot, depending on the size of the plant.
3) Add bonemeal and wood ashes or fertilizers that are low in
4) Add soil or compost. Wet it down so that it settles in the ground, and add more if necessary to mound it up.
5) Plant so that the eyes (fresh stems) are no more than two inches below the top layer of dirt.
* Peonies thrive in cold winters and warm springs. They need the cold to prepare for blooming, but come spring, they need consistent sun before the buds will pop. Expect blooms around late April or early May, depending on weather.
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