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When I wrote in my last post how I have a number of garden umbrellas to protect  my peonies from our unpredictable New England weather, I imagine some of you (and not just FS Photography) were thinking, ‘Of course you do.’  

I assure you, there is a method to my madness! 🙂

Powder Puff

“Powder Puff” (Herbaceous Peony, Unknown Heirloom Variety) 105mm F/2.8G Macro, F/11, 1/60s, +0.3EV, ISO 200

Aside from extending the life of the flowers, another advantage to the garden umbrellas is they act like large diffusers! This fact I noticed the other day while out walking the gardens. Had the umbrella not been in place, the light on this gorgeous blossom would have been too strong as it was just after high noon.


“Anthology” (Herbaceous Peony, Unknown Heirloom Variety) Nikon D300, 105mm F/2.8G Macro, F/11, 1/160s, ISO 200

Now normally, I would prefer a bloom sans ant, but since ants have always had sort of this symbiotic relationship with peonies it was time to give them their proper due. There is a long running debate on whether or not ants are necessary for peony buds to open and most likely the correct answer is, ‘No’, but I firmly believe that Mother Nature doesn’t do something for nothing. 

I think the ants are there to provide some natural protection against harmful insects and that is why the buds secrete a sweet sap to attract them in the first place. You can believe what you like but I know, the years I’ve seen ants crawling all over my peony plants are the years I’ve enjoyed the most blossoms and the least insect damage. 

So, thanks little buddy! 🙂



  1. Thanks for sharing your beautiful Peonies with us. I’ll have to look for ants on the buds. Haven’t noticed them for years.

  2. I thought those umbrellas were pretty nifty! I may have to get some, ‘cuz my peonies are all gone by now. Plus, they probably look better than a shoot-thru umbrella sticking out of the garden! 🙂

    Beautiful blooms!

    • Thanks, Chris! I highly recommend them! I should be enjoying peonies for at least another couple of weeks as I have some late bloomers. I know, without the umbrellas, mine would probably be all al pile of petals on the ground.

      Ssssssh, I don’t just use them for peonies, either…I’ve been known to move them around the garden for decoration as well as a nice hands-free diffuser!!! 😉

  3. Well I guess you can try to defend yourself.. lol.. but I think secretly we all know that covering your flowers with umbrellas is just as crazy as penguins in flip-flops.. or giraffes in wetsuits… or chocolate firemen… but I’d not dream of mentioning that… 😉

    But seriously though.. How can you defend ants… I have millions of ants in my garden, and not a single peony… lol.. and I hate the horrid little things… So if you want some more, then just let me know and I’ll gladly ship them over… free of charge… 🙂

    • Brian, peony umbrellas have been used by the Chinese and the Japanese for centuries to protect the blooms from fading in sunlight. So, if I am crazy I am in good company! 🙂

      You hate ants??? Seriously?? Hmmm, they are really intelligent insects but I know they can be bothersome en masse. Perhaps if you planted a peony or two and gave the little guys something to do, they might not be such a pest… 😉

      • Lol… You’re probably right, maybe they do need something to do… Maybe I could build them a little adventure playground, complete with their very own death slide and rope swing… Or, if they’re that intelligent, then maybe I’ll just give them the tools and materials and they can build their own… 🙂
        Otherwise I think I’d need a few hundred peonies to keep them busy… lol… and we both know I couldn’t possibly be caught with that many flowers in my garden.. 😉

      • Ha! Hilarious! I can just see a busy little village of ants sawing and hammering away – lol! Thanks for the laugh this Sunday morning! 😀

  4. Why do they remind me of a wedding? They’re so beautiful!

  5. Love these photos, you must have a beautiful garden.

    • Thank you, Consuelo! It’s alot of work but so rewarding! 🙂

  6. Haaaaa! Brian, you crack me up as usual!

    Tracy, I’d never heard that theory about ants and peonies. Always wondered about the buggers crawling all over the buds.

  7. Gorgeous peonies – the images look great with or without ants. Ants have lots of interesting relationships with plants and other insects…

    • Thanks, Tom! This particular bloom seemed to have that something ‘special’ so I couldn’t miss!

      I have no issues with ants – I find them fascinating to watch. I, do, however, prefer them outdoors instead of in! (We have an older home and we can tell when it is spring by their arrival in the kitchen!)

  8. I like peonies and you took beautiful photos of them. The soft and smooth creamy colour of petals is simply… yummy 🙂 Unfortunately, they are very fragile and don’t last long in a bloom. I didn’t manage to take a single photo of a peony since I started to take photos of flowers more than a year ago 😦 I like especially your first photo. Re. the ants – I hate them on peonies! 🙂

    • Thank you, Tomas! Very sweet of you to say!

      Yummy….yes, I agree! 🙂

      They are fragile but it is really the weather that causes them to have short bloom times. Protected from the sun, wind and rain I find my blooms last for up to a week (some longer!)

  9. Your peonies are so beautiful! I have some looking almost like yours, only they have a tone of soft pink. A lovely flower! Mine are not ready for flowering yet, but when they are, I´m happily around them with my camera.

    I like the idea about protecting them with umbrellas…not a bad idea….I´m already trying to figure out how I can do the same.

    • Thank you, Birgitte! It’s no secret that peonies are my favorite flower. I fell in love with them at a very early age as my mom had one plant in her garden. I found them to be magical and knew I’d have them in my garden. So exciting that yours are yet to bloom! 🙂

      Before I bought the garden umbrellas, I tried using large golf umbrellas attached to bamboo poles (not the most attractive thing). When I found a source at Cricket Hill Gardens I decided to give them a try and, for the most part, they work perfectly. (Some years, my peonies have grown too tall for them – amazing!)

      I hope to get some more but they are sold out until October 2010.

  10. Madness is an artist trait. Wear the badge with pride. The proof is in your photos as to the results.

    • I agree!!! I find the ‘sane’ folks to be quite boring.

      Thanks so much, Scott! 🙂

  11. Beautiful peonies, beautiful light, but are you sure peonies don’t need ants to open?

    • Thank you, Lynn!

      HUGE debate on that very topic on the web. I’m never gonna set out to prove it one way or another! I simply enjoy the results! 🙂

  12. Do they small as BEAUTIFUL as they look?

    • Don’t you wish you had smelli-PC?? 😉

      These have a lovely fragrance..not strong but simply clean and fresh smelling. Would make a wonderful scent for a candle.

      Thank you, Michaela! 🙂

  13. such a nice sofy, fluffy, comforting flower!

    do you have any wider shots of your garden? in law school they tell you not to miss the forest for the trees as a way to get you widen your perspective. (who knew law professors were so poetic?) so i’d really like to see your “forest” of a garden.

    • Don’t you just wanna lay down in that flower and sleep the day away?? Me, too. 😀

      My ‘garden’ isn’t really all that pretty in wide shots. I have lots of nice flowers but there are sheds (yes, multiple) and fences and a large inground pool (granted, it looks like a lagoon, but it is still surrounded by a stamped concrete deck laden with the usual furniture, stainless steel grill, market umbrellas, etc. Things still have to be functional as well as pretty!!)

      I promise – I will post a wider shot at some point. What has been holding me back thus far is the fact that the pool has been broken and just got fixed yesterday. Water trucks come tomorrow so it will actually look like a lagoon pool and not the rotting cesspool of brownish-green smelly water that it has been since Memorial Day weekend! 🙂

  14. Are the ants farming other insects perhaps? My lemon trees get ants that farm aphids like cattle. The ants get pretty upset if I mess w/ the aphids.

    In general, I don’t mind ants. They keep other bugs away, most notably termites. 🙂

    I like both shots, especially the one with the ant.

    • I’ve seen no evidence of insect slavery by the ants. 😉 I’ll have to keep a lookout for that behavior.

      I don’t mind them either. However, when they are in the house it can get a bit annoying and out come the traps. If the spiders would only do their part instead of simply creating webs in the strangest places that don’t see to catch anything at all then I’d be all set! I didn’t know ants kept termites away…that’s downright admirable of them!

      Thanks much, Sean! 🙂

  15. Great idea with the umbrellas. The light sure is nice in these lovely shots 🙂

    • Thank you, Amber!! I love having a large ‘hands-free’ diffuser around when I need it! 🙂

  16. We like to try diverting ants’ attention with a spoonful of honey placed near where they congregate… then they head on over to the honey-saloon and leave (some of) the flowers alone.

    Your peony photos are beautiful – with or without ant!

    • That’s an interesting way to handle the ants. The ants are not harmful to the peonies, in fact, I think they are necessary to help ward off other harmful insects. In my garden, the ants can have their way with the peonies! BUT, with that said, I might try this tactic to keep the little buggers OUT of my barbecue grill! 🙂

      Thank you – much appreciated! 🙂

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