Swenson Gardens

Monthly Archive: April 2016

Photographing intersectional hybrid peonies…


In a previous post I had mentioned the tip if using a circular polarizer filter to make sure you are at a 90 degree angle to the sun when photographing any subject matter and in this case I’m trying to shoot an intersectional hybrid peonies foliage. Now what? I’m sure we all have shots like this especially when the suns angle is lower on the horizon.


Now doesn’t this look better and the depth to the intersectional peony foliage is greater? In sunny conditions, move around your subject to no more than a 45 degree angle to the sun and in this case the intersectional hybrid peony comes alive with color and depth.

Intersectional hybrid peony foliage…


I couldn’t pass up this shot of Maddie Mae checking out the new intersectional hybrid peony growth in our garden bed.


Intersectional hybrid peonies are still my favorite peony variety whether it is in the spring when their foliage is burgundy in color or at bloom time or when their foliage stays shrub like and green well into the fall or I just love them all season long! They are easier to grow than other herbaceous, and certainly tree peonies, so if you do not have any in your gardens, you have to try some! All of our intersectional hybrid peonies are originators stock and NO TISSUE CULTURE IS ALLOWED IN OUR FIELDS! PERIOD! Some may ask if we grow Itoh’s or Itoh hybrid peonies and the answer is yes; however, we have chosen to use the terms intersectionals or intersectional hybrid peonies instead. Both descriptions are approved by the American Peony Society so we use our terms as they truly are a cross between the two sections of peonies. The mom is a herbaceous peony and the dad is a tree peony.


Looking down a row of 3-year old intersectional hybrid peonies is a treat! I’m getting anxious to see their growth and blooms but that still may be weeks away! Patience dear peony gardeners, patience…at least for us up in Zone 4. For those of you in warmer zones, I hope you are enjoying your bloom times! Speaking of bloom times down south, received some pictures of their ‘White Emperor’s’ blooming, in North Dallas. Wonderful news as the rumor is that intersectional hybrid peonies do better than herbaceous peonies in areas as far south as Dallas. For our other Texas customers, please let us know your findings via email, info@swensongardens.com. Thanks!

Peony field jottings…


The sun came out this evening in all its springtime glory here on the peony farm. As you can see some of the Japanese tree peonies are starting to set their buds and fill out with some of their foliage.


Even some of the herbaceous early varieties are setting their buds and filling out with foliage. I have never understood this area of plants around our house! They receive shade after 3 PM but yet they are farther along in growth vs those in the fields with all day sun. We use most of these for hybridizing as they are some of A.P. Saunders named varieties.


To the naked eye these same leaves were very shinny. I can’t say enough about a circular polarizer filter and as stated before, I highly recommend the B&W KSM C-POL MRC nano. Yes they are spendy, but without it, I could never get the detail of the foliage on this herbaceous peony. If you choose to use a circular polarizer filter, make sure when you take the shot that you are a 90 degree angle to the sun. When you get to that point, focus on the foliage first and turn the polarizer until the foliage looks dull vs shiny. This will certainly make your peony bloom color pop!

Jottings on the peony farm…


Matilda is getting to be very photogenic as she followed me around this evening with camera in hand. Though she was shy in this photo…


her playful nature trying to catch a honey bee kept me focused on her versus the peonies.


after a few minutes of trying to catch a honey bee, she laid down in front of me and settled for some grass.


For those of you who have met ‘Guppy’, he tends to be an underachiever when it comes to work and an overachiever when it comes to ‘cat naps’. He is now the oldest cat on our farm and perhaps the most loved even though he is a handsome 17 lbs! He was thinking about moving from his sunny spot trying to watch some seeds grow…


but then as usual, he fell asleep. We love you Guppy anyways!

Peony field jottings…

As I mentioned in previous post, was hoping to give you some photos of the peony growth in the fields but rain has kept us inside most of this week. Perhaps you can get a mental picture as I update you on the fields with text only. Most of the early varieties are about 12 to 18 inches high. Mids are 1/2 that height and late varieties are 2 to 4 inches high. With the cooler weather and lack of sun, you can really tell the difference of potential bloom times with the varied growth. The intersectional (Itoh) hybrid peonies are the most perplexing this time of year. Seems like they are stalled at 4 to 6 inches high for the past couple of weeks. Then its almost like they grow overnight. I just love the burgundy red color of their soldiers/stems when they start to grow above the ground. The tree peonies are filling out nicely and some have already developed their massive buds.

No definite dates have been set for Peony Field Days. Will be updating the blog and Facebook when we get closer to bloom time. I’m assuming with all the April showers that May peony flowers are soon to come, especially the intersectional hybrid peonies!

Ultra wide angle lens


Birch 2

Looking through some pics I see that this one never loaded from a previous post when I first tried the Tokina 11-16 F2.8. We are so ready to get in the peony fields but rain hampered any attempts at photographing the growing plants.

Yellow peony?


With all the rain this week I’m starting to see yellow peonies everywhere! Problem is we didn’t plant any of this particular variety. Guess it must have been the honey bees that hybridized this yellow peony!

Peonies springtime maintenance tips!

No matter where you are at in your peony season, Becky and I spent some time this afternoon cleaning up the peonies around our home. Hopefully these tips will help you as home gardeners tidy up your peony beds. As you can see by some of the pictures, do we do this every spring? Well no not exactly but with some extra time on our hands and 70 F degree temps today, we had to do something! Here are some examples that I shot and a video will be forthcoming soon.

grass 1-1

Does this look familiar in your gardens? Yes grass and clover are not friends of peonies! You will see peonies growing in grass and overtime they may start to decline. We do use cover crops in a couple of our test fields, but we are going away from cover crops as the growth of the peonies are way behind our other fields where we do not use cover crops.

grass 2-1

Now doesn’t this look better? For those of you with grass growing around your peonies, we suggest using a gardening knife or spade to gently remove as much of the grass roots (no pun intended) in order for the peonies to flourish. Keep the grass as far out as the drip line of the peonies to assure continued growth over its life time.

rock 1-1

Landscape rock is an attractive feature in many of our beds, but oh dear do they do a number on peony soldiers trying to make it out of the ground. Not only do the rocks prevent their growth but you normally find plastic underneath the rock. Because peonies grow in width, after removing the rock we also ran into the plastic preventing any peony soldiers from making it up. Once you remove the rock away, also make sure to slit the plastic and tuck it under the plastic far enough away from the peony soldiers. We hadn’t done this for about 3-years and noticed many peony soldiers under the plastic that will now make it to the surface.

rock 2-1

We will continue to leave the rocks away from the peony soldiers now that we know how detrimental these peonies were in this landscape rock bed. I’m sure the peonies were happy again!

wood 1-1

One of the ever popular landscape material is shredded wood mulch. Side-note, I am not a fan of Cyprus mulch or any dye colored mulch. It is also a good idea to be careful on any hardwood mulch. I like Western Red Cedar is it lasts longer and does not decay and pack down like the other wood mulches. Yes its more expensive, but that’s what we use and are very happy with its look, smell and well being in our flowering beds. So back to the problem with all shredded wood mulch, though not as bad as landscape rock, wood too can smother out peony soldiers if it is not removed from the peonies.

wood 2-1

The sun just happened to peak out from the clouds while taking the ‘after’ shot. Like landscape rock, remove as much of the wood mulch away from the peonies to about the drip line. This too will help your peonies dirt to dry out vs remaining moist around the peonies. Sometimes if it is a very wet spring/summer, we may remove the mulch farther away in order for the dirt to dry out faster. Knowing that peonies do not like continually moist growing sites, bare dirt and good drainage are a must!

wood 3

Take Redd’s advice, remove your landscape material away from peonies and watch them thrive!

Springtime on the peony farm!

mag 3-1

mag 2-1

mag 1-1

Oh the joys of our Magnolia tree blooming! Sorry but I can’t scratch and sniff the pictures but for those of you who may grow this, you know the scent of this glorious tree. The former owners of our farm planted it many years ago and said the highlight of their spring was the scent from the Magnolia. Shot this with my favorite lens the Sony/Zeiss 24-70 F2.8 ZA SSM which is the main lens for all our peony shots on SwensonGardens.com.  Enjoy!