By Ashley Lodato
When my husband and I started building our house one spring, our neighbor, lifelong valley resident Donna Martin, called me over to give me some peony roots. Her peonies were so prolific that they needed to be divided and distributed.
Donna’s peony roots have some history to them, some having been transplanted from the log cabin to the north of her on Twin Lakes Road, and others with origins at her Northcott grandparents’ homestead up the Chewuch. When I took these peony roots in my hand, I felt a bit like I was being handed the keys to the horticultural kingdom of the Methow—like I was being entrusted (albeit undeservedly) with a piece of Methow gardening history.
That spring years ago, Donna handed me three gnarled brown nubs that looked like something you might use as kindling for a campfire. “You’re supposed to transplant in the fall, not the spring,” she told me, “so their development might be set back a couple of years. Just stick them in the dirt somewhere you can remember, then when you’re ready to plant them near your house you’ll know where to find them.”
I tucked the twisted roots into a patch of dirt in our nascent garden and almost promptly forgot about them, what with all the distractions of work, learning how to use a nail gun, and raising kids. But a couple of years later, once the chance of them being crushed by an excavator or paved over in concrete had passed, I dug up the roots and planted two of them on the south and east sides of our house.
Again, a year or two passed with scant attention given to the knobby stalks that had yet to bear fruit. And then suddenly last spring, a lone white blossom. I watched its velvety petals force through the hard knot of the bud, unfolding into the fussy explosion that is the flower. I left it growing in its perfection for a couple of days, admiring the way its petals held the glistening morning dew. Then I snipped it and placed the single stalk in a vase on our counter, a solitary whisper from the homesteader who first grew its forebears. I left it on display until it drooped, wilted brown petals falling to the counter around it.
I thought about how such little nuggets pass from one Methow Valley household to another: a homesteader’s peony stock, a secret patch of morels, a toddler’s gently used snowsuit, a reminder not to plant potatoes until the dandelions bloom. These threads connect us, no matter our origins, no matter our differences. They’re a good reminder that when your own supply is abundant, it’s time to divide and pass along.