For the Love of Peonies or Ant Wars

I really love everything about my peonies. The big beautiful blooms, the fragrant bouquet and the ants.

This wasn’t always so. In fact, my little six-legged friends and I didn’t always see eye to eye. As I watched them do their magic to help bring forth the loveliest of flowers in my garden, I was reminded of how our relationship began – and of a story I wrote about it a few years ago. I wanted to share it with you and a few images of my beloved flowers.

I hope you enjoy my tale, perhaps learn from my mistakes and have a wonderful Sunday!

Ant Wars

I’ve always wondered where the term “ants in your pants” came from.

I often heard my mother exclaim that this child or that wiggled around “like she had ants in her pants.”

But, I don’t really think I ever truly appreciated the expression until this spring.

I was attempting to lighten the load of my double pink peony bush of a few fragrant blossoms, when the little buggers, known as red ants, waged war.

In all fairness, I should say they retaliated.
The ants and I have had a long-standing, shall we say, history for many years. When I first planted my peony bush eight years ago, I noticed that there were an awful lot of ant colonies cropping up around its perimeter.

Now let me pause here to explain that although I love beautiful plants and gardens, I am not what you would call the most prolific gardener in Oklahoma.

That said, I was determined that these little arthropods were not going to rob me of the double blooms that I so deeply coveted. So, for three dutiful years, I sprayed, dusted and crystallized the little red darlins. Some of you may already have guessed my burgeoning mistake – but I was still clueless, as to why my beautiful bush that I tended so diligently would not put on even one tiny bud.

This is where good friends come in handy, especially ones who are much more knowledgeable about gardening than myself. Mine was Deborah. I called her and whined to her about my problem.

She asked, “Do you have any ants?”

To which I proudly replied, “No, I’ve killed all those red devils!” (You must imagine me with my head in the air, hands on my hips and my chest puffed out to get the full effect!)

To say that I felt less than intelligent is an understatement. How was I supposed to know that peonies needed the sweet loving care of those hardy little red workers? The lady at the nursery didn’t tell me. My momma never told me – but then again she was born and raised in North Dakota, and it never occurred to me to look it up on the World Wide Web.

Now, fast forward four years. I now had several healthy colonies of different types of ants; and every year, my bush puts out more and more florets. That is why that year, I felt it would be safe to cut a few to take indoors.

These beautiful flowers never cease to brighten up any vase.

Did you know that ants never forget? Elephants don’t hold a candle to these six-legged cousins of the wasp. The ants that retook the colonies on my property are still mourning the death of their loved ones from so many years ago. That is the only explanation that I can think of for their outright attack on me.

When I cut the first bloom, I felt the tiniest little sting – I thought I had imagined it. I finished cutting a half dozen or so big pink blooms and took them inside and put them in a crystal vase; that is when I felt another little pinch – surely it couldn’t be? I just rubbed it away and went outside to where my husband was talking to the next-acreage-neighbor.

That is when the ant General set the battalions loose. Right there in front of God, my neighbor and my husband.

A little bite here, a big bite there – mostly in the area of my nether region. I tried, unsuccessfully, to use a nearby tree, the back of the mower my husband was sitting on – even casually swatting with my hand. Nothing would stifle their bites and stings.

I began squirming and wiggling around like a child – you guessed it – with ants in her pants. There was nothing for it, I just had to excuse myself, quickly, and make a run for it. I ran inside to disrobe to find all the offending fighters and surrender.

I don’t know if they are still holding a grudge over my killing their kin or not, but it was a long time before I picked any more flowers – maybe they just wanted to keep all the peonies for themselves.

Ants are not only essential to help propagate blooms, they also are instrumental in helping a new bud escape from its encasing by chewing it free.


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