Not only is it the first peony; it's in fact the first flower in the garden of rose and peony bushes that I prepared last autumn. It's a Chinese species, Paeonia suffruticosa (tree peony), called Adzuma Nishiki. I was reassured (in a silly way) that the flower and the plant correspond exactly to information in the superb album on peonies that Christine gave me as a Christmas gift:
Semi-double peony. Rose-pink, pale at the tips of the petals, darker and deeper towards the center. The petals get smaller and smaller at the base. White pistil and stigma. Dark green foliage with purple flares.
It would have been strange indeed if my alleged Adzuma Nishiki had emerged say, looking like a rosy geranium! Still, an exotic plant such as a peony is surrounded by an aura of Oriental mystery, and it comes as a surprise to discover that you can unwrap it from its plastic bag [display my Christmas article entitled Planting peonies], bury the sweet-smelling mass of nondescript roots in the earth, and then discover, exactly four months later, that the resulting plant corresponds precisely to what was written in the book. Like my hero Richard Dawkins, faced with the wonders of the world, I've remained essentially an awestruck child.
POST-SCRIPTUM: If I note down the date of flowering of every one of the 9 peonies and 22 roses that I planted last year, then I'll be able to look forward to welcoming them back individually, in future years, like the return of so many Prodigal Daughters.