1 Here I am with my dear friend David Rockefeller who, at 98 years of age, is still going strong! It was so wonderful seeing him at the 6th Annual Spring Peony Celebration.
2 This garden boasts approximately 500 spectacular peony plants and I marvel each year that I visit it.
3 In Japan, the peony is looked upon as the humble king of flowers and it is a symbol of strength, courage, and future good fortune.
4 In 2002, the peony garden was generously donated from a town in Shimane Prefecture, Japan by Mr. Yatsuka Cho, as a gesture of compassion and goodwill following the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001.
5 When Mr. Yatsuka-Cho offered the gift, gardeners began renovating the entrance to the Rockefeller State Park Preserve to accommodate them.
6 Shimane Prefecture is well-known for its exquisite tree peonies, where they have been raised since the eighteenth century.
7 As if the peonies weren't spectacular enough, the dogwood was also in full bloom!
8 Unlike the more common herbaceous peonies, which flop over if not staked, tree peonies bloom on graceful woody stems.
9 Also, herbaceous peonies die back to the ground each autumn and tree peonies do not.
10 Some of these amazing blooms are the size of dinner plates!
11 Mr. Yatsuko-Cho also wished to present the Brooklyn Botanic Garden with a gift of 500 peony plants.
12 These two New York gardens were to receive 50 different varieties, all semi-doubles, in shades of pink, white, red, yellow, purple, and even black.
13 Beds were dug in advance so that the peonies could be planted immediately upon arrival.
14 However, the first attempt at delivering the plants came to a rather tragic ending.
15 The plants had been shipped from Japan and arrived by boat in Long Beach, California in early October in the middle of a longshoreman's strike when no cargo was being unloaded.
16 The peonies were all bare-root plants, grafted cuttings packed in sawdust and a shipping delay would cause them to dry out.
17 Staff members at Rockefeller State Park and the Japanese gardeners who had come to oversee the installation waited anxiously.
18 The Japanese team of overseers for the project included a representative for Mr. Yatsuka-Cho, four gardeners, a translator, and an environmental scientist to ensure the proper placement of the plants.
19 By the time the container arrived in New York in early October, the crates were opened and the air became filled with the fetid odor of decay.
20 Not one plant could be used and the staff members at Rockefeller State Park and the Japanese crew were all heartbroken.
21 The Japanese team sadly returned home.
22 After surveying the loss, an insurance adjuster estimated damages of about $80,000 for the flowers alone.
23 However, the Japanese were hopeful that the flowers could be replaced.
24 The growers in Japan rallied together and put together a second shipment, which was sent directly to New York by air.
25 The peonies arrived in early December of that same year and the gardeners scrambled to get them into the ground before it froze for the winter.
26 To show their appreciation of the generous gift of the Japanese, the Friends of the Rockefeller State Park Preserve raised $96,000 to build a handsome garden and stone courtyard for the peonies.
27 A letter from the Japanese is posted at the entrance to the park and reads: ''These flowers bring us happiness and comfort in times of trouble. We hope that these peonies, carefully raised by the producers in our town, can also be loved by and bring peace of mind to the people of the United States.''
28 What a perfect and extraordinary gift!
29 After enjoying a stroll through the peony garden, I was asked to join Susan Antenen and judge fourteen beautiful flower design presentations.
30 The arrangements were lined up beneath a tent on pink-clothed pedestals.
31 The First Prize Floral Design winner went to Lisa Ritell (Briarcliff Manor Garden Club) for her exquisite underwater design.
32 Second Place went to Susan Zetkov-Lubin (Briarcliff Garden Club) for a design incorporating several different varieties of lilacs among lilies, peonies, larkspur, lemon leaf, and pussy willow.
33 And the third prize went to Sandrie McGarrell (Parkway Homes & Parkway Garden Club) for her dramatic design of red blooms in a seashell.
34 Indoors there was a fine art exhibit and sale with proceeds donated to the preservation of the park and trails. This life-like painting is by Margaret Morrison.
35 I shared some warm words with Mr. Rockefeller, who has spent decades involved in many philanthropic pursuits in a variety of areas, including medicine, science, and education.
36 Here's a very nice group shot - my gardener Ryan McCallister, me, David Rockefeller, and his gardener Marcia Smith