Swenson Gardens

Growing Peonies that don't flop


The sights, smells and sounds sure have blossomed this week on the peony farm. Crab apples and apple trees are at their peak bloom and oh what a sight and smell they present. Having a camera ready with Heidi going crazy trying to catch falling petals from a crab apple tree did not turn out so I had them sit in the next sequence of pictures to at least I could try to catch the moment of chaos.

Thankfully this is not snow on the ground or hail but the sweet remaining fragrance of the crab apple petals. I should bring another person with me so I could have photographed Heidi jumping quite high in the air trying to catch the petals. Happiness abounded with these antics on the peony farm this morning!


Peonies field jottings is now posting to bring you up to date on what is happening in our peony fields. As you know from previous posts, the mid April blizzard and single digit temperatures really set us back for a ‘normal’ spring. What is normal? For me it is whatever our Creator decides to give us. When we first started growing peonies commercially in 2002, I was a basket-case trying to figure out weeks in advance what needed to be done. Yes the phrase ‘one day at a time’ prevails now, so trying to control the weather and what needs to be done has been replaced with ‘it is what it is’! So for the last couple of weeks it has been peaceful and organized mayhem knowing what needs to be done. Last year it took the mulch removal team 2 1/2 days to remove the mulch from 1,500 or so new peony plants.  This year it took 9 hours to remove the mulch from 2,500 or so from the new peony plants! Thank you Lord was the shout out from the team as they were dreading that step once the ground temperature warmed up. Ok now on to the cover crop planting in the peony rows and new areas getting ready for peonies this fall.

The larger areas were planted with cover crop seeds with our neighbors drill. Planting between the rows were done with a drop seeder. We do need some rain to settle the seed in, but again, that will be ‘some day’! My did the above ground growth take off this week! Yes the top 3 to 4 inches of soil is now dry, but because of the late season blizzard and subsequent slow melting, we have wonderful moisture content in the soil where it matters most…around the peony roots!

My what a change of color versus a few weeks ago!

Some of the very early to early peony varieties are filling out their foliage and starting to set marble size buds.

Another example of a very early peony variety that presents itself with an eye catching maroon and green foliage characteristic. Varieties with maroon or dark red stems will show that color in the foliage until they mature into all green as the season progresses. Not sure if we are more excited about the foliage or blooms as they both are an attractive addition to gardens!

The intersectional hybrid or Itoh peonies are also starting to show. They seem to hang back a tad in timing similar to late blooming peonies. The excitement of our 2018 peony season is starting to build! Check back for additional posts on our peonies field jottings for updates throughout the season.


The last couple of weeks have been rather mundane on the peony farm except when the Purple Martins return! Yes our 3 Martin houses are getting full of both immature and adult Martins’. This is a glorious time of the spring when we can enjoy their aerobatic antics and soothing sounds. Earlier in the week a Peregrine Falcon was migrating through and the colonies of Martins’ made sure the he or she continued to fly north vs taking up residence in their territory. Interesting that the Martins’ allow a pair of Red-tail hawks to reside on our property.

Perhaps next year we may have to add more PM houses?

We don’t know for sure how many pairs have taken up residence here as they settle in to their new homes. Heidi is sure amazed at the Martins’ as she doesn’t quite understand the fuss when I stop near them to look and listen. This has been a breakthrough week with Heidi! She can now go on walks with us without her leash!

Redd of course still needs an e-collar as his nose is so in tune to game birds, mice and rabbits. Once his nose gets on a scent, its hard to stop him unless a gentle vibrating sensation is felt on his neck.

Both of them this morning were barking at our neighbor to south of us while he was doing some fieldwork. One of the reasons for taking both of them, but especially Heidi for walks and rides around our property is to establish boundary lines. A friend of mine who has Shepards’ said to do that while they are puppies. Seems to be working with Heidi as she was first to start barking when we reached the south end of our property. Very cool!

I know I’ve taken way to many photos of Heidi facing me, but this shot will now lend itself to a 360 degree look at her colors. At 6-months old, her coloring has settled in to this pattern since posting a couple of weeks ago. Life on the peony farm has now achieved the excitement of peonies field jottings…see next post!


Seems like forever this spring that I’ve been waiting to post about removing mulch from your peonies! For those of you in USDA growing zones 2-4, remove and discard your mulch on the peonies. With the very late spring, we are suggesting to remove it ALL now vs half now and the other half in 7-10 days. This late into the spring does not have the extreme temperature swings like we normally do earlier in the spring. Knowing that the tulips here are about 8″ tall, is the other sign to look for.

If only we could train Heidi to remove the mulch from our peonies vs trying to eat the new toys coming up out of the ground!

I had to put another pic of Heidi in this peony post. She is definitely a handful when it comes to distractions like tulips coming up! It won’t be long now until we see the first peony soldiers FINALLY having some above ground growth.  Not sure what Heidi will do then? I did notice some of the eyes have turned a deeper red which means blooms in about 6-weeks. Yes this is a rule of thumb based on temperatures to come and hoping that this year we do not receive a late frost that nipped some of the early blooming varieties last year. Thank you to those of you in warmer growing zones that sent us pictures of your SwensonGardens.com blooming peonies. We LOVE to see your pics! Remember when removing mulch from your peonies that you need to keep it about 1 foot away from the crown so your soil can start to warm up!


This post will bring you up to speed on the last 2 weeks of life on the peony farm. We took a long weekend away last weekend which was a pleasant relief from the prior weekends 12th largest snowfall ever. Was wonderful to see tulips and crab apple trees blooming and green grass at our destination. The first pics below will reveal white grass a week ago. Where’s the mouse game came back to life with the 15″ of snow on the ground.

Redd is more enthusiastic with trying to find the mouse and of course Heidi is bored easily unless something or someone is running away from her. Ok troops, time to go on our next adventure!

Yes, but Redd wants to play with me now?

Thankfully I was able to catch Heidi before she ran off again. She is now able to jump into the Gator with a little help from dad and seeing Redd mirror the command for ‘in’. Finally they are back in the Gator and ready for the journey back to our home. Oh dear, Franky is patiently waiting for Heidi’s return, I think?

Nope, Franky has learned that being much higher than Heidi relieves him of having to play with her. Ok now on to today’s pics as of April 28th. Green grass is starting to show with the warmer temps this week. Most of the snow is gone except for a few drifts in shaded locations. Heidi is now starting to recognize the ‘go for a ride’ theme.

Not sure if Redd is all that enthused about how big Heidi is getting or he’s just shy of all the pictures. Come on dad lets go!

Yes but one more picture please. Heidi is about an inch shorter than Redd and is starting to fill out nicely. That’s enough pictures so lets go for a ride!

Selfie time! Geez, now dad is taking selfies of us traveling down the driveway! Oh well, at least we can go for a ride! Perhaps now spring has arrived on the peony farm?




Has anyone seen any white peonies? My, my what a strange spring. Last year our first peony blooms showed on May 13th. This year I have no idea when our first peony blooms will show. Trees are void of buds and our grass is still brown. Even our Magnolia’s buds are stubbornly showing about 1/4″ of green. Two to three weeks behind normal? I really don’t know especially when you look at the following pic taken moments ago looking south to some of our peony fields.

Blizzard conditions are raging outside and weather forecast is predicting 11 to 21 inches of SNOW by tomorrow. With the 20 to 35 mph winds, travel is not recommended. For those of us in the path of this monstrous snow storm, be safe out there. Those of you in the NE that had multiple storms like this, how did you make it through? Yes we needed moisture but by way of snow vs rain? The good news with this much snow is the fact that the freeze/thaw will be tempered (slowed down) by the snow. Ground temperature is 34F about a foot down and 30F on the surface. Once we get to the magic 45F+, finally we will see above ground growth on the peonies. Also, snow is a marvelous provider of nitrogen and trace minerals especially when it melts quickly, like next week, versus staying on the ground most of the winter. Not sure if we’ll be planting any snow peas yet as my dad always said to plant snow peas after the last snowfall. By not planting them, I’m hoping we are done with snow so the ground starts to warm up. No signs of spring growth above the ground with our peonies. Could this be the latest peony bloom? Will know more in a few weeks. For now though, I’m envisioning white peonies as I look out the window!


Thankfully life on the peony farm was back to normal, well as normal can be. I was not able to go outside this morning for my weekly Heidi and Redd post as yours truly spent an interesting experience at our dentist’s office this week. What was supposed to be a normal tooth extraction on Tuesday, turned in to an full blown infection on Friday. Thus the Zpack, prednisone and vicodin needs adult supervision other than myself outside. Thankfully the experience is getting better with each passing hour. However, my dear wife has hid my wallet as I may have a tendency to watch infomercials. During recovery a few years ago whilst on pain meds, our UPS driver showed up with two boxes marked Nuwave on the outside. Where did these come from? To this day I really don’t remember ordering them so as a precaution, my credit cards are no where to be found until I’m off vicodin. Thankfully I did order the carrying case, silicon pizza mat, extension for a larger turkey and an extended warranty. Opening up the next box revealed the same items plus another Nuwave. Somehow the family was not too excited about these amazing appliances so there they continue to sit on the shelf. However, we were able to re-gift one of them but am not able to comment of its usage thereof. Ok so what do I do when I can’t venture out of our dwelling? Franky, want some more catnip?

Franky is now my best cat friend as he follows me around hoping I have the catnip container ready. Not sure if cats can get addicted to catnip, so I may have to cut him off so that doesn’t happen! So what’s Heidi been up to this morning?

Oh dear, she is learning how to climb! Sorry for fuzzy pic as even with optical stabilization, being on prednisone is an adventure. Although the height of their kennel is 6′, we may have to think about some sort of roof to keep her safe. Well honestly, to keep all our coats, shoes, boots and gloves safe. Oh, we are down another $70 chew proof bed this week so only 2 of the original 5 are left. Heidi turned 5 months old today and maybe these 2 beds will last another month? Since she can climb now, won’t be long until she can jump into the Gator. Dear old dad has to lift up her rear up to get her in the Gator but at least she has her front paws on the tailgate. Life on the peony farm, spring is almost on the way?


Another eventful week on the peony farm. We hope you all had a wonderful Easter weekend. Last Saturday evening about 7:30 PM, was checking on the fertilizer production team. There was Jane hovering over what looked a new member of the FPT. Jane is Danny’s cow so wanted to make sure the calf was ok. With actual temperature of 4 F and a north wind blowing something wasn’t right.

Normally an expected mother will go into the barn or lean to for birthing vs a frozen, bare ground. Oh no, this is not good as the calf was frozen to the ground and hair iced over but she was still breathing and blinking her eyes. I lifted the calf up and tried to lead mom into a drier location but she would not leave the spot where her calf use to be laying. A call to Danny brought him quickly over so we could try and save the calf.

Becky kindly offered her hair dryer so we could dry the calf off and warm her up. Finally in an hour and a half of trying to warm the calf up she started to nurse from the bottle. I asked Danny what he was going to name her and he said ‘Rose’ because she was brought back from being almost dead. Moments later Rose was trying to stand on her own and started mooing for her mom. We brought her into the barn where dry hay was spread out for her. Jane finally came into the barn and was excited to see her little girl. After checking on her multiple times during the night and Easter Sunday, Rose started nursing on her own. It was funny watching Rose following Danny around as he was her first scent when she came too. The picture below was taken this morning and she is a healthy heifer that loves to be petted.

As you can see Rose has lots of friends to play with, Spot and Willy came by to get their picture taken as well.


Talk about a bouncing baby girl! She loves to run and jump around now. Poor mom is going to have her hands full with this kid!

Aren’t I cute or what!

Welcome Rose to the fertilizer production team. You are so loved and we are so thankful you are still with us! Life on the peony farm…always an adventure!


Snow and 20-30 below average temperatures seems to be the theme this week on the peony farm. With single digit temps at night and 8″ of new snow on Monday, thought we would be into spring by now? No buds showing on the trees yet so assuming we could be in for a late spring. Ok dad, stop whining and lets go for a run! Redd and Heidi don’t seem to mind the snow so guess I should be thankful for the added moisture and nutrients the snow brings to the soil.

The growth spurt that Heidi experienced from last weeks post seems to be almost 50% done as at least one ear is now pinned up.

Heidi still has trouble with the ‘out’ command from me so hopefully Redd will teach her better!

Thanks Redd! It was so cute this morning when the temps were 9 F. Tried to get a selfie of Heidi and I when she snuggled up to me and put her head on my shoulder and started licking my face while driving the Gator at full speed to end the driveway. Was that her way of telling me she likes to go fast? I think it was! Ok troops, time to head in as dad is freezing driving up and down the driveway as fast as the Gator will go!

With the colder temps, guess who gets to stay in the house and snuggle up after a long run this morning. Sorry picture isn’t better as I had to take it through the patio door window vs waking them up opening the door. Guess dad wore them out riding up and down the driveway in the Gator. Ok friends will see you next week for life on the peony farm!


Can you say ‘white as snow’ on the peony farm this morning? Last night we received about 4″ of snow and with the wind, drifts abounded around the farm. For those of you in NW Minnesota last night, hang in there spring will come at some point after your blizzard. For our friends in the NE United States, hopefully this front will pass you by vs the winter you’ve had to endure! So what do we do when a fresh blanket of snow and drifts a plenty around the farm? Yes, PLAY!

Redd and Heidi just LOVE to play in the snow drifts! As you can see above, Redd continues to exert his dominance, for now.

Redd was trying his best to evade Heidi but now his speed is matched by Heidi. Even aerodynamic ears didn’t help his get-a-way. Within a few steps Heidi was upon him in the next photo. I had to be very quick to get these shots as it was over in a minute or two.

Heidi tries so hard to achieve dominance. Hang in there Heidi your time will come so for now enjoy frolicking in the snow with your best friend. Oh dear I’m tired from this burst of energy. Let’s see if any of the cats have come out of the barn this morning?

Nope! The drift was too high to let them out from their exit point under the door. Oh well, we’ll just wait for dear old dad to plow the driveway…again. Hey guys want another family picture? How many times do we have to do this dad? No comment…

Heidi, Redd and our family would like to wish you all a blessed Easter! Tune in next week for another post  about life on the peony farm!