Swenson Gardens

Monthly Archive: May 2015

Photographing peonies…

DSC05990  Our first Red Charm peony started to bloom yesterday in one of our ‘micro-climate’ sites. In a future post, I will talk more about this phenomenon as it pertains to gardening with peonies at our homes. I have a series of shots to follow that were shot with different aperture settings. Lets call this peony shot number 1.

DSC05991Peony shot number 2.

DSC05992Peony shot number 3.

DSC05993Peony shot number 4. On a calm day, I like to adjust aperture versus shutter speeds in order get the color spot on. So which one is your favorite? As I mentioned in previous post, red is one of the toughest colors to shoot. It can go blue, brown or pink. During sunny days it can saturate and flare unless your using a diffuser. Yesterday I had a huge diffuser in the sky before the rains started. In these photos the ‘red’ is true to color on the Red Charm peony. Have fun with your aperture settings while shooting peonies in manual mode.


Peony field jottings…

DSC06003The rains came down and the sun came up today on the peonies. Over an 1 1/2″ of rain yesterday so field work, (and blooms) have stopped for today. The weather person says 39 degrees F tonight for a low? And who said Minnesota peonies aren’t tough! Green is still the color of the day with maybe 3% color in the fields. But oh what color! With the cooler spring and moderate temps, most of the blooms are HUGE and vibrant coloration. We will continue to update on percentage of color in the fields on a day to day basis. Peony bloom time is stuck in the very early varieties with very few early varieties showing.

Peony Field Days Update

Peony Field Days Pic 7 copyDestination Peonies! Peonies are slowly opening up. So as of today, maybe 1-2% color in the fields. So far we are still in the very early to a few early varieties opening up. Here are all the dates, June 5, 6, 12 and 13 from 9 am to 5 PM (weather permitting). Thankfully over the years I think we’ve had to cancel about three dates due to storms. We will post on our Blog, Facebook and recorded message at 763.350.2051 should threatening storms, flooded driveway and a blizzard (ha, ha) prevents all from attending that specific day. The 5th and the 12th are Friday’s and the 6th and the 13th are Saturday’s. We are not open on Sunday’s. The address is 10958 70th St SW, Howard Lake, MN. Two of our fields will be open for walking and enjoying the beauty of peonies. One of our fields is wheelchair accessible and for some you can drive by during these specific days for a lovely view from our driveway. The second field to view requires waterproof boots depending on previous rains but its time to let you see some of the varieties that are not present in our other field. Please, please be careful when our gardening friends are getting out of their vehicles as parking will be north of the information tent on both sides of the driveway and up by our home where cars are turning around. Overflow parking once all the driveway spots are taken will have signs directing you to our riding arena which is located to the north of the turn around driveway circle. Also this is a working farm with electric fences and other items that are not safe to be around. If bringing small children please keep them in eye sight range and do not let them run in the peony fields as well as near the pond, animals, equipment and fencing. All who are on our property are entering at your own risk. Swenson Gardens, Keith and Becky Swenson and any staff member does not assume any liability implied, stated and incurred during your visit on our property. (Sorry but new insurance policy requires us to post this.) We want all to have a safe and enjoyable visit to our farm and most importantly, the peonies! As mentioned before, we LOVE dogs as long as they keep their owners on a leash or maybe its the other way around. Yes you may walk with them in the peony rows and around our farm as long as you pick up the you know what and take home with you. Did I say BRING YOUR CAMERA? Here’s another surprise, I will be giving introduction to photographing peonies tours throughout the day. I have a couple of diffusers you can use and will be taking your cameras to the next level of shooting for those of you who are still shooing in the ‘auto’ mode. Will continue to update the Blog and Facebook with percentage of color in the fields as we get closer to Peony Field Days. Might I even suggest two visits to Swenson Gardens fields? You will see different peonies blooming on the 12th & 13th vs the 5th and 6th. Time to head out and shoot some more peonies, with a camera of course!

Peony field jottings…

DSC05924 DSC05922And the ‘green’ continues. Not much happening in the fields for color over the past few days. Today the rains started around noon again. Took these photos from our front steps with a 70-300 zoom lens set at approximately 250 mm. Distance was at least 200 yards so the field of view is very deceiving. From our house to the end of our driveway is 440 yards and the tree in the background is at least a mile away from where this picture was taken. Pretty cool though! The hybridizing crew, aka Becky and Danny had to stop their pollen collecting early when the rain began. With all the tree peonies starting to open up, they were hoping to collect more pollen before the 85 degrees surprises us tomorrow. Currently 59 degrees outside so assuming we may have a 30 degree swing in temps tomorrow. This will definitely speed up the blooms for a couple of days but back down we go on Friday with another cold front coming through to spawn more storms. Tough to get photos of the very early varieties in the rain. Over the weekend maybe a handful of very early varieties like Rose Nobel, Sprite, Athena, Japanese and Lutea tree’s and Roselette’s Child started to bloom. Hope you all had a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend. Thanks again to all those who have and are serving in the military. We appreciate you and your family’s for serving our Country!

Purple Martins

DSC05929Continuous rain today has grounded the flight path of the Martins today. At last count we have at least 12 pairs nesting in our two houses. Lots of activity before the rain so am assuming it was feeding time. Once it clears up will be counting the young ones in this house as we have a cable system to raise and lower it. Fun!

Seraphim Peony

DSC05840I always look forward to Saunder’s, Seraphim peony to show. A prime example of a ‘white peony’ that truly is white. No hints of blush, pink, ivory or yellow. Its truly any honor to grow many of Saunder’s varieties, especially for me his Seraphim peony.

Peony field jottings…

DSC05841 (1)Green is still the color on 99.99% in our fields. A remnant of red from Lil’ Sweetie is still present towards the top of the field. The weed crew is doing a great job keeping ahead of the ‘other’ green in the fields. With more rain in the forecast this weekend and next week, I’m also forecasting very little color in the next week. June 5th and 6th are still the only two dates we are posting for our Peony Field Days. Will update more dates once we get in to next week. The colors on those peonies that have shown are very vibrant with the cooler weather and lack of sun. Hope your peonies are doing well in your gardens and for our friends in Zones 6 – 8a, now you have to wait till next spring. Sad but its always fun to see color when they first bloom. For our friends in Zones 2 & 3, hang in there! Your time will come too! Happy gardening!


Photographing Flowers in Full Sun

DSC05864Who doesn’t want to go outside and photograph flowers on a nice day? That was the case this evening while making the nightly rounds through the fields. Why then do most of our pictures look washed out and highly saturated? Yes you may have guessed it, too much sun! Sure we could wait till sunset but then the colors seem to fade with the sunlight so how can we shoot nice pictures in sunny conditions?

DSC05862These photos of the sub species peony ‘huthii’ were taken minutes apart. The difference is not in the camera settings but in a diffuser. Diffusers are readily available at any camera store and quite reasonable. Because it was windy tonight I didn’t set up the tripod holder but had Cara, a budding blogger and photographer, and my wife Becky hold it a few feet away from the bloom to yes, diffuse the sun. Looking back at a previous post regarding a prime shooting day with clouds acting like a huge diffuser but still having some sunlight enhance the colors in the photos. Yes this may require purchasing some more equipment like a tripod, diffuser holder and a 24″ to 48″ ROUND diffuser, but for those sunny shots, well worth the $200 to $300 investment for everything. I think the two diffusers I bought were $40 and $80 for the larger one. They come in different colors but I like the white reflective one.

DSC05845I just love the foliage on intersectional hybrid peonies. There is still the debate on what to call them. You may have seen Itoh’s, Itoh Hybrid, Intersectionals and intersectional hybrid peonies. We have chosen the terms intersectionals and intersectional hybrid peonies as they truly are two ‘sections’ of peonies that have been crossed. Toichi Itoh was the first hybridizer to cross these magnificent peonies and thus we do recognize his plants when we sell those varieties. Taking photos of ‘green’ foliage is again a challenge in sunny conditions. Even the green gets washed out and over saturated with too much sun.

DSC05847Now look at this spectacular intersectional hybrid peony seedling with the use of a diffuser. Pretty amazing, right? Time to diffuse the sun and get our photos back! Happy shooting!

Peony field jottings…

DSC05811 DSC05806 DSC05799Some new arrivals in the fields today! I had to try out my new camera tonight even though the sun was a blazing. I had mentioned earlier about moving up to a Sony A99 full frame body; however, based on my success with the A77, I actually went with an A77 mk ii. After speaking with Paul Nedrud at National Camera Exchange, it just made more sense to go with this body as the end product is already wonderful with the lenses that I have. The old adage of ‘its in the glass’ really makes sense! The better the lens, the better the picture! These were shot with the 24-70 Zeiss lens with a B&W pro xs nano MRC circular polarize filter. One tip when shooting with a circular polarize filter is to have the sun perpendicular to your subject. No diffuser was used so this is full sun shooting with spot on color even with Lil’ Sweetie on the right. Red is a bear to shoot in full sun. With over 6″ of rain in the last week, fields are very muddy. Color wise just a few varieties are starting to bloom. Will keep you posted on additional Peony Field Dates as the color starts to pop. This morning when I walked the colorful dogs it was 35 degrees. No frost on the ground like they are having about an hour north of here. Tonight is forecasting a balmy 38 degrees. Can’t believe how cold its been but loving the moisture. I heard that we are now out of drought conditions! Thankfully though our beloved peonies are drought resistant anyways! Happy gardening!

Additional composting team members?

DSC05829DSC05819For those of you following Facebook, now the bloggers are getting their first glimpse of our composting team. Nothing on our farm goes to waste! (ha, ha) All our fertilizer, aka compost, is raised and produced on our farm. That way we know for sure where our compost come from. The pasture and hay that we produce has had no chemicals applied to the source material for compost. The team is composed of short and long legged Dexters, a Scottish Highlander and a cross breed. They are very adapt at eating grass and hay so they fit well into our operation. All waste material, aka, manure, is then pushed into large piles, the heat from the summer reduces it down, its turned over a few times to make sure all is composting well and then wintered over to kill any remaining seeds that may have made it through the cows many stomachs. That compost is then spread back on the pasture and hay fields to provide natural, organic and micro nutrients. Now the best part, this compost is then used on our peony fields 2-years in advance to prepare for their planting and propagation. We are so blessed and thankful that the composting team is with us as they truly are the key to wonderfully rich soil. Both mom (cow) and daughter (heifer) are doing great! For those of you who are not familiar with Dexter cattle, they are very friendly amidst their horns and are 1/3 smaller than a normal beef cow like Angus and Herefords. These are examples of long legged Dexters. The color on the calf is called ‘dunn’. They are dunn, red or black in color.

DSC05824DSC05818This is one of our biggest cows whose name appropriately is ‘white face’. She too had a calf today and both are doing great. Mom has a few different crosses most noticeable is the Hereford having the white face (remember an earlier post of Redd and Brownie?). She also has some Texas Longhorn and Scottish Highlander. Now the daddy, Buford, is our long legged Dexter bull (who by the way is a big baby and loves to have his back scratched) that lives naturally with the herd. Will have to post a pic of him someday but Facebook followers have already seen him. So his new son has lots of crosses but is absolutely a charmer! This makes 5 new team members this spring and thankfully all are doing great!