Thursday, April 24, 2014

Kansas-Tested, Bella-Approved

Remember the "kid-tested, mother-approved" 1970's jingle from the Kix cereal ads?  Well, my recently blooming, Kansas-tested Paeonia tenuifolia was Bella-approved during a walk yesterday.

I had the exuberant and rambunctious puppy out for one of her many daily jaunts when she spied this blooming peony from across the garden and made a Beagle-line for it.  Since Mrs. ProfessorRoush and Bella have recently confessed to accidental beheading of a foot-tall concrete garden gnome (and I suspect the same irresponsible pair for the recently-broken wing of a small garden angel), I allowed Bella to approach the peony but with some trepidation, expecting her to plop on it enthusiastically like she does on the cats.  Instead of blundering into the clump however, she halted a foot away and tentatively sniffed first one bloom and then another, sampling the plant's aroma like an oenophile assessing a new vintage. 

During the sampling, Bella kept a respectable distance as if expecting the plant to bite, and it occurred to me that the impressions that she and I get from the same plant are likely very different.  I wonder, even, if we could agree on anything about the plant's fragrance?  I haven't spent a lot of time investigating Paeonia tenuifolia for fragrance and I don't recall if it has any fragrance at all.  In fact, I can't even confirm that I've ever buried my nose in it, a deficiency that I intend to rectify tonight.  For me, however, to take a fragrance description beyond sweet, fruity, or musky would be a tremendous leap of imagination.  To a half-Beagle nose like Bella's, for all I know, Paeonia tenuifolia could smell like anything from milk chocolate with a sprig of mint, to a drunken sailor unwashed from a month at sea, to a hungry Cretaceous predator.  The latter may, in fact, be the more likely possibility based on Bella's reticence to get close enough to allow the plant to bite.

Paeonia tenuifolia does look a little bit other-worldly with that finely segmented foliage and single bloom at the tip of each stem, but I haven't observed a similar reaction from Bella towards other plants, so I'm at a loss to explain the behavior.  Come to think of it though, this is one of the first plants, other than daffodils, to bloom at her shoulder level, and it was the first bright red plant to bloom at all this year.  Bella is only a baby and she hasn't experienced the garden in all its bountiful glory yet so this may just be the first of many surprises to come.  I waited for her to go ahead and ravage the plant, but after a few gentle sniffs, she turned her attentions elsewhere, as if to say "Well, I know what that is now and it is not interesting."   ProfessorRoush, however, is left now to wonder just how different my garden looks to a dog's nose.  And what I wouldn't give to experience it like Bella, just one time.


  1. Looks like things are "greening up" in your part of the country, Professor! Things are lovely here in my part of zone 8. Glad to see someone else's dog sniffs the flowers...mine does the same. I thought our old fella doing it was just a case of the dog taking on the owner's personality.

    1. Greening indeed. And a whole 0.4 inches last night but it's pouring right now so I'm hoping for an inch. That'll be a good start.

  2. I'm unfamiliar with Paeonia tenuifolia - it is beautiful! The foliage is particularly nice, since I'm always on the lookout for foliage that departs from the standard "medium" texture of so many of the prairie plants. How long have you had it? Is it as hardy as other peonies here in Kansas?

    As I watch our shepherds sniff trails in the grass or otherwise investigate things with their noses, I've wondered about what I'm missing, too. Too bad there isn't some sort of "glasses for the nose" equivalent that would let us at least approximate their olfactory sensitivity!

  3. I've had it since roughly 2007. It seems to be entirely hardy here....I divided the clump I was given and all three are now the size of the original. Seems to make no difference whether it gets full sun or some shade. Next time you get up in the fall, let's divide you a clump; it's pretty pricey if you try to buy it.


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