Una peonia rosa nel contesto vegetale di Villa Crivelli Pusterla a Limbiate (Fototeca ISAL, fotografia di Anna Zaffaroni)
A peony rose in the plant framework of Villa Crivelli Pusterla in Limbiate (ISAL Photo Archive, photograph byAnna Zaffaroni)

The gallery that slopes down towards the garden through a sequence of exedra terraces constituting one of the main characteristics of the visual and scenic layout of Villa Crivelli Pusterla, has been enriched with many tree species, among which, is the Paeonia genus. This covers 33 plant species of herbaceous, perennial plants and rustic shrubs, belonging to the Paeoniaceae family, of which only some are found in Limbiate. It is a beautiful plant, and because of its splendour is also called “rose without thorns.”

The peony has been acclaimed by many European poets and scholars fascinated by its big, solitary flowers of various shades of pale pink, red, white and yellow. Peonies also produce meaty fruits composed of some follicles, believed to be botanically interesting. These are plants that grow slowly and have very rich blooming periods, though brief and limited to the months of April to May. The spectacular flowers are delicate, and at times a simple storm suffices to ruin them completely. Despite this, they are greatly fascinating and their flowering periods are one of the most exalting shows of spring. The main characteristic of the herbaceous peony is having an aerial part that dies in winter. The spring shoots emerge directly from the neck of the roots, just a few centimetres under the soil. The meaty roots that act as the reservoir containing the substances stored, allow the plant to overcome the cold season without any harm. The herbaceous peonies thus develop every year, numerous stalks that bear the leaves and floral buttons at the top.
The shrub peonies which in nature are found exclusively in the mountainous zone of eastern China have a different type of growth. These produce really woody stems on which the sprays of leaves and flowers appear in spring..
The tree peonies, also called woody or tree types, tend to grow vertically and horizontally like all shrubs, and in some cases are over 2 m in height and diameter. The form of the flowers seem different since they may have one or two skirts of petals with the stamens in view, or else more or less composite flowers in which the stamen has been completely transformed into petals. In the first case, we are speaking about petaloid essences and the flowers are called anemones. The latter instead is characteristic of the double flowers that are more showy.
The peony was thought to be a flower with many curative effects and was considered to be a remedy against madness, so much so that in some medical treatises of the last centuries, this phrase is cited: “If you hung herbaceous peony around the neck of a mad person, he/she will immediately return to his/her senses. And if he/she continues to wear it, the illness will no longer affect him/her.” Other herbalists and pharmacists recommended the use of the roots to treat epilepsy in children, and its seeds were strung into rudimental garlands around the necks of newborns to ease the pains from teething. The roots and petals fought off asthma and gout and soon enough the peony became an amulet also against storms. The Asian peony differs from the European species which resembles a tiny rose. It is very luxuriant and in ancient China as in Japan, in the past centuries owning peonies was an exclusive privilege of the imperial families and the mandarins. Still today, this tree essence is one of the main symbols of nobility and refined elegance, elements that explain also their diffusion in the historic gardens of the noble villas in Lombardy.