Ed Grisamore

His peonies are music to his eyes

Dr. Rudolph Jones, a retired Macon physician, watches a slide show of his peonies in his home at Carlyle Place.
Dr. Rudolph Jones, a retired Macon physician, watches a slide show of his peonies in his home at Carlyle Place. Special to The Telegraph

I could blame it on being in a crowded room, with chatter coming from every direction and my hearing not being what it used to be.

Dr. Rudolph Jones introduced himself back in January and mentioned a program he was giving at Carlyle Place in April. I gave him my business card and told him to contact me about it.

He told me he was 98 years old and was a pianist. He promised to drop off a book he had put together.

A 98-year-old pianist? Now, that’s a good story.

When I opened the brown clasp envelope and pulled out the 21-page spiral book, I was startled.

Dr. Jones is not a pianist.

He raises peonies.

I’ve been having a good laugh at myself about it these last few weeks. (I guess I really do need hearing aids.) I told the story when I spoke to the Barrington Hall Garden Club last week, and the ladies got a chuckle out of it.

Dr. Jones is passionate about peonies. At one time, he had 120 peony plants blooming in the backyard of his former home on Hillandale Circle.

He may not be a classical pianist, but that’s quite a floral symphony.

If you’re interested in hearing about his more than 50 years of growing one of the most beautiful flowers on the planet, his presentation is at 3 p.m. on Thursday, April 18, in The Grande Ballroom at Carlyle and is open to the public. He has given his popular lecture five times in the past.

April has arrived, so these perennials with the large, fluffy and flagrant flowers are beginning to bloom in gardens across the area.

It has been an early spring in Macon. The Yoshinos were right on time for the Cherry Blossom Festival. The azaleas and dogwoods arrived ahead of schedule, and the daylilies are waiting for their cue in a few weeks.

Peonies make their grand appearance inside a tight window of four to six weeks. They usually wait until it’s warm enough, then retreat before the torrid Middle Georgia summers.

Jones practiced internal medicine in his hometown for 55 years, retiring in 2005. Among his patients was the late Wallace Miller Sr., an attorney and the mayor of Macon in 1926-27.

“He lived on North Avenue, and he grew peonies in his backyard,’’ Jones said. “The yard got morning sun and there were not a lot of large trees.’’

In the mid-1960s, Miller began sharing some of his peonies with Jones and his wife, Dorothy, who had a rose garden. Peonies were uncharted territory for Jones.

“I had absolutely no knowledge of them,’’ he said. “I could not have identified what a peonies looked like or anything about growing them in any way.’’

There now are more than 6,500 varieties. Even the name peonies can be spelled more than one way. Some can live for more than 100 years.

Jones convinced Dorothy to let him plant a half-dozen peonies around the periphery of the garden. He bought them from Johnson’s Garden Mart (now Johnson’s Garden Center) on Hartley Avenue. They came in a small, rectangular box. He paid $3.99 each for them. He still has the planting labels.

Jones relied on Miller’s expertise and advice for planting depth and the amount of sunlight.

“You had to make the soil adaptable, mixing sand and peat moss with the clay because it wasn’t easy for anyone to get top soil back in those days,’’ he said.

Dorothy Jones, who died in December 2017, soon surrendered her rose garden, and together they turned it into a peonies paradise.

“Over the next 30 years, I made mistakes like everyone else does,’’ he said. “Peonies take a certain amount of understanding. They require the same amount of dormancy peaches require. But with proper care and management, you can grow all kinds of beautiful flowers.’’

When he moved to Carlyle Place in 2013, he took some of his peonies and planted them in one of the community gardens. Others ended up in the yards of family members.

They are one of the many reasons April is a special month.

He might not be the pianist I thought, but his flowers are music to his eyes.

Ed Grisamore teaches journalism at Stratford Academy in Macon. His column appears on Sundays in The Telegraph.