Mary Beekman is a four-year-old ghost who resides in The Beekman Mansion, and considers Brent and Josh her “imaginary friends.” Follow Mary Beekman’s Diary each week to learn what it’s like to be a young child in early 19th century America

Mother dug a piece of some peony root from Nell’s Mother’s garden last year. Nell’s mother told her the root must have at least three “eyes”.  These eyes had to be placed in the soil pointing up.  I do not understand why, because they were all covered with
dirt anyway.  I did not even think any part of this root looked like an eye.  Mother took good care of the buried root before last winter set in.  She covered each plant with straw.

Mother remembers her grandmere warning her, you should only dig the roots during the night.  If one were to disturb a peony during daylight hours, wood peckers would appear and proceed to peck your eyes out.*  She was laughing at the story and told me it was not really true.  That is especially good because we were at Nell’s house during the DAY time.  Thomas Jefferson wrote about peonies in 1771.  He was a very good gardner. A peony bush can live longer than human beings but they do not like to move from place to place.  Mother said it is fine to take a piece of the root; they don’t mind that.

When I go to the garden to pick peonies, there are many ants circling around the buds. Josh and Brent help me to shake them off.  Josh uses his thumb and middle finger and SNAPS them off into the air.  They land far away.   The buds have a sweet sticky liquid on them.  Brent said it was sweet because he touched his tongue to it.  Ants are attracted tosweet things.  In the hot days of summer, big Sister places one half a cup of fresh, macerated peony petals in one cup of cold water and allows it to steep for thirty minutes. Then she heats it for ten minutes.  She strains off the petals and cools the water.  She uses
it to refresh her face. It smells very nice but her face appears the same to me………

by Mary Beekman

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peony lady

The ants love to sweet nectar from the peony buds. It's definitely a one way relationship because the peonies doesn't benefit from the ant's presence.

However, I find it a fascinating subject and so I take pictures of it every year. I love peonies and enjoy the anticipation of my peonies blooming every year. They make a very beautiful addition to your garden, a wow floral arrangement and then, you have the beautiful foliage to enjoy thru fall.


Phyllis, I have missed you. Your mother seems as wise

as Mother. I am going to try to notice the difference

between the peonies with ants and those without. Josh

told me his mother hangs the peonies upside down and lets

them dry for an everlasting bouquet to use later when it is

no longer summer. I hope I shall be a wise mother someday.


From a person who grows peonies:

"My mother always said it was a co-op thing. Ants like the sweet peonie secretions and as they walk about and eat away at the waxy coating it loosens the the very tight cabbage-like blossom holders. I don't think it's required by the peonie for ants to be present, but I do notice that my peonies with the most ants bloom all at once and the blooms are fully opened, gorgeous and fragrant, whereas the peonies in a different area that gets regular bug treatments and thus no ants, bloom a lot more sporatically." Thank you!

Nettie Grimes

As an ex-kindergarten teacher, mother and grandmother, I find this story and character just lovely.