I've always hated peonies. Their name bothered me (I teach high school, any word that sounds that close to a part of the reproductive system just won't work), they were overly showy, but mostly they disgusted me because they were always covered in ants. Who in the heck wants to plant flowers that get swarmed by ants? It all seemed very odd to me and so, like mums, peonies went into the category of Plants I Can't Stand (perhaps on some appropriate fall day I'll post about my dislike for mums.)
The first year that Andrew and I lived in our house, we enjoyed watching what popped up in our garden that first Spring. A few owners ago, the house was inhabited by a woman who was a member of the horticulture society and was very fond of white. We have a white azalea (pointless, if you ask me, considering all of the amazing colors that azaleas come in,) a white bush which we almost yanked out to expand the vegetable garden until we saw a minute version of it selling in the local garden center for $150, and (of course) white peonies. I was pretty bummed when I recognized the familiar ball shaped peony heads that first Spring. Stupid peonies, I thought. Stupid ants. It wasn't until I researched ways to get rid of the ants that I learned that there is a wonderful, important relationship going on between the ant and the peony.
The peony, you see, is covered in a wax that prevents the flower from opening. The ants eat the wax and allow the peony to open. I am such a dork, that knowing that this was a mutualistic relationship going on my yard (it doesn't take much to get a biology teacher going, I guess) ended my distaste for the flowers.
It is important to remember that insects are good and necessary. It is hard to remember this when they are crawling inside the house, are found in large numbers anywhere, or could potentially sting. But still, in some way, they are important. As long as I just keep telling myself this basic fact, peonies will always have a place in my nerdy heart.
Oh, and I guess on second glance that bloom is kinda pretty after all.