postseason peonies

Cooled Peonies The peony season is brief, but the buds have staying power. Harvested at the right stage, unopened peonies can be refrigerated, then opened for use weeks later:

1. Cut buds in the garden when they feel like marshmallows to the touch, firm but compressable.

2. Recut the budded stems under water (to prevent air bubbles from interfering with water-uptake), and put them in a bucket for several hours to take on water containing a few drops of household bleach. Keep the bucket in a cool, dark place.

3. Remove the stems from the water and lay them out on damp newspaper or paper toweling. Fold the paper over the stems and buds so that each packet holds only one layer.

4. Store the closed packets in a refrigerator, but keep them away from fruits and vegetables, whose ethylene-gas emission interferes with long-term storage. (Recycled pizza boxes work well for holding the packets.)

5. Two days before you need them, remove the buds from their packets, and recut the stems under tepid water in a bucket.

6. Keep the bucket in a warm, lighted place. If you're pressed for time, you can speed the process along gently with a hair-dryer.

7. Create an arrangement. The bouquet pictured above enhances postseason peony blooms with frothy astilbe flowers and tamarac fronds. A couple of drops of bleach in vase-water discourages spoilage. Recutting the stems every couple of days and storing the bouquet in a cool place can make it last even longer.