Keith, the co-owner of Swenson Gardens, first saw peonies in his grandmother’s garden in Wisconsin. After grafting in Becky, his lovely wife, and building their first home, he longed to showcase these beautiful plants in their landscape. Upon seeing their first Bartzella bloom, the dream of growing a few Bartzellas soon turned into hundreds. In 2002 they planted their first commercial roots on 1½ acres of leased land. Five years of patiently caring for their peonies and learning more about the market led them to cast a bigger vision. In 2007 the Swensons purchased a 40-acre farm near Howard Lake, Minnesota in where they nurture thousands of peony plants in hundreds of varieties. Their children, Britta and Luke, grew up along with the business and help in many tasks during college breaks. Now Swenson Gardens is the largest chemical-free grower in the world. Hard work and love go into growing peonies the natural way, God’s way. Grandma would be proud!
By mid-May the party begins as the first peony blooms appear. Rows of corals introduce the season, followed by reds, yellows, pinks, and showy tri-color blooms. Swenson Gardens’ fields are open to the public just two weekends per year during Peony Field Days. Thousands of gardeners visit the farm to enjoy the variety of colors and make plans to incorporate peonies into their own gardens. Many folks are amazed at the stem strength and beautiful foliage of these newer varieties – definitely not our grandmother’s peonies! Photographers and painters enjoy lingering over the rainbow of colors, trying to capture the perfect image, while garden club members take careful notes to educate themselves about these exceptional flowers.
The peony market is awash with two imposters: tissue culture roots and potted peony plants. The photo at the right illustrates the tangled root mass that is one result of the short cut tissue-culture process. The photo on the left is an example of a garden peony and an intersectional hybrid peony from original rootstock, which is sold by Swenson Gardens. Learn more about the pitfalls of tissue culture roots in the FAQ pages. Potted peony plants are grown in a greenhouse using multiple chemical applications, and are most often sold in the spring during the peak season for annuals. While potted peonies offer the instant gratification of stems, foliage and flowers, they do not provide the vigor, strength and longevity of bare rootstock. The transition from the climate-controlled environment of a greenhouse to a garden frequently causes plant shock, resulting in timid looking plants with tangled storage roots, anemic blooms and weak stems. In contrast, Swenson Gardens’ customers often comment on the exceptionally large and healthy rootstock they receive, which provide the necessary energy for their first year of growth. Peonies are an investment in the future. Please do not succumb to the imposters. Be wise and patient by purchasing Swenson Gardens’ bare-root peonies.
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