Swenson Gardens

Yearly Archive: 2016

The first ship peonies are soon to be on their way!


A couple of days ago the peony barn was cleaned and prepared for the picking and packing of the peonies.


Can you say tubs loaded with peonies? This is a partial shot of the tubs waiting for the pickers to come through with customer orders in hand. Each tub and peony root is labeled and alphabetized so the picking is easier.


Susan is one of our new peony pickers. She and the team had fun today picking all the shipping orders. Most of those orders will go out on Monday, September 12th so peony lovers, next week it should be time for you to plant!


Did you order the Harry L Smith peony? One of these peonies might be yours!


Dan S continues to amaze us with his ever careful eye in providing the most peony ‘eyes’ in the orders. If you plan on coming out to the Peony Barn Sale to pick up some more peonies, make sure to tip him well so he can help you find the best peony root! The system the picking team has developed requires each order to be double checked by another person to make sure all the peony orders are filled correctly. Tomorrow the pick up orders will be filled and placed into the coolers for the upcoming peony pick up days on Friday, September 16th and Saturday, September 17th from 9 am to 5 PM. More information will be posted about the Peony Barn Sale but for those of you who have visited before, might I suggest to come early for the best selection. The peonies we will have on sale are excess retail peony roots as well as smaller peony roots that did not pass our retail peony root requirements.

So what does a swenson gardens peony plant look like?


For those of you who grow peonies, yes the foliage, stems and flowers look wonderful above ground; but, we LOVE what is happening below ground level. Here a recently dug peony is hoisted up on to one of our washing stands. Its much easier to gently spray off any dirt at or near eye level instead of wrestling with it on the ground. This also prevents roots from breaking off as you can wash them from the top, sides and underneath through the mesh screen. This is an example of one of our 4-year old plants and yes it is huge. We dig our plants anywhere between 3 and 5 years old depending on the variety. The peonies that are faster growing are dug in 3-years versus slower growing varieties that are dug in their 4th or 5th year. Peonies are interesting plants when it comes to the best time to dig them.


After the peonies have rested for a few hours after they’ve been washed, the team of surgeons aka cutters/dividers, carefully cut the peonies into retail divisions. Here Danny takes on some of our illustrious intersection hybrid peonies. They are considered the toughest peony to divide. Some of our dividers like the garden/herbaceous peonies better than the intersectionals, but Danny and I LOVE to divide the intersectional hybrid peonies!


Again this year, Candy Stripe was our most popular peony. Needless to say here is a table full of retail divisions that are waiting for the processing team to do the final washing before they enter our coolers for filling orders. From the time a peony is dug, within 24-hours it has gone through the complete process and is put to rest in our coolers. This is extreme peony digging, washing, dividing, washing and cooler, but fresh and healthy roots is a must around here! Yes it means 12 to 14 hour days, but we do what is best for the peonies, period!

recent visitors to our peony farm


Yesterday a flock of 11 Sandhill Cranes visited our peony farm. Though they were a week early for peony pick up days and our annual peony barn sale on September 16th and 17th, they sure inspired me to run and get the big 70-400mm Sony G lens. They stayed around for a few hours then took flight and headed south. If only now the mosquitoes would do the same as I think Sandhills don’t even bother trying to make a meal out of a few thousand of them. Or maybe because they couldn’t find a peony in bloom, they decided to leave?

USDA Zones 2-5 last day to order peonies is Monday, August 22, 2016!


Where has the 2016 peonies season gone? If you haven’t placed your order for Swenson Gardens peonies yet, USDA Zones 2-5 last day for 2016 delivery or pick up ordering is Monday, August 22, 2016! Online orders will close at the end of business that day and mail-in orders have to be RECEIVED that day. Here is the link for mail-in orders and info on pick up days. www.swensongardens.com/Home/HowToOrder If the link does not work within this blog post, go to www.SwensonGardens.com and click on ‘See how to order’ from our homepage.

The final day for USDA Zones 6-8a to order Swenson Gardens peonies is Friday, September 23, 2016. Any orders for USDA Zones 2-5 that are received AFTER Monday, August 22, 2016 will be shipped out in early October. If you are in USDA Zones 2-5, now is the time to place your order for Swenson Gardens peonies!


peony field jottings…


Ok so sometimes I get excited during the process of preparing and nurturing peonies! As you know our peony fertilizer production team is VERY important to us. Since we are a chemical free peony grower, what we put on and into the fields before planting our peonies are also very, very important. Knowing that our peony fertilizer production team only eats what we grow in the pastures and hay fields, how to best spread and amend that into our soil has been a struggle with our current, yes, manure spreader. Some of you may be thinking that I’ve lost it by getting excited about a manure spreader, but hold on. We want to make sure that the composted cow manure is spread evenly over the peony fields vs the clumps of manure that we were currently having with our old spreader. Case and point, we literally had to break up some of the clumps by hand with a pitchfork. Thankfully our old spreader broke down and the search was on to replace it. This used H&S 1506 came up on Craigslist so it was off to the sellers location to look at it. WOW! Twin hydraulic augers, TWO beater bars and flotation tires! I tried to contain my excitement on viewing this jewel so after a bit of negotiations, the 2-hour trip back to Howard Lake seemed like an eternity. Needless to say when I arrived back at the peony farm, family members looked at it and said ‘oh’. Now I’m talking ‘WOW’ here as this unit will break up all the clumps of composted cow manure and spread it evenly over the fields! What more could you ask for? Well the flotation tires help too as I probably won’t have to bring a chain along anymore in order to pull me out after getting stuck in the wet areas.

Seriously here folks, since we do not use chemicals and stimulants, the steps we take to make sure all facets of growing peonies are chemical free takes years of planning and preparation. Amending the peony soil with composted cow manure is one of the most important steps. This new spreader will save hours of manual labor to make sure it is amended evenly into the soil. Yes my grandma was right in amending her peonies with composted cow manure but now we are doing it on a scale that she would be proud of!

Peony farm jottings…


We have had another crazy week on the peony farm! Tabitha aka ‘Tabby’, gave us a new heifer calf. Mom and daughter are doing great. Normally she is our best cow when it comes to calving and care thereafter, but earlier this week, we had quite a scare. We use rotational grazing techniques on all our pasture land so it was time to move the herd into another unit. It is absolute chaos when moving them as ‘the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence’ mentality is true. Basically when one cow enters into the new pasture the others are supposed to follow. Open the gate, get out of the way and watch real time funniest videos. Now don’t take this wrong as we LOVE all animals, but those of you who raise cattle you know what I mean when saying this, ‘cattle have no brains’! Yes I try to lead the herd through the gate first, but Tabby and her new calf where at the end of the cattle parade and couldn’t keep up with the single file line of cattle floats in front of them. Finally they caught up to the others, counted to make sure all parade participants were in the new pasture and then proceeded to close the gate.

Now it was on to the next evening project of disking our 2016 and 2017 fields for planting new peonies. Oh the joy to be done at 7 PM so I could watch the womens Olympic team gymnastics final. After putting my favorite tractor away, an 1968 Oliver 1550, I noticed Tabby was running around the pasture in utter distress. Ok first thing is to count the herd, all I could come up with is 23! There should be 24!!! Now for those of you as of late in this area, the mosquitoes are nasty from all the rain. In fact this week we had over 5 inches of rain and yes the new culverts worked marvelously on our driveway so it is still in tact. I really don’t like what some may call the other Minnesota State bird/insect and especially with the aforementioned statement on the womens gymnastics team final, so the choice was made to look for Tabby’s calf. Calling ‘Redd’, who doesn’t like cattle and electric fences from an early childhood experience, he and I set off in the gator to find the missing member of the peony fertilizer production team. Golly did I tell you I really despise mosquitoes? YIKES! Both Redd and I were miserable.

So it is now 8:10 PM and no sign of #24. Not kidding here, but I prayed that #24 would return or be safe until the morning since it is getting dark fast. Though we have not lost any calves to the local gang of coyotes, that thought is ever present when we have new calf’s. Redd also told me, I think that it was time to go in. Numerous walks in the fields, woods and trips around the perimeter fence line with the gator provided no clue where she had gone or perhaps snatched up by the ‘yote’ gang. As I was walking to plug in the outside fence charger, i happened to look up in the north field. There I saw #24 prancing towards the south fence line amidst the bellows of Tabby’s distressed mooing! Unplugged the fence charger and ranĀ  a 1/4 mile to that fence line where #24 couldn’t figure out how to reach her mommy. FInally #24 figured out how to get through the fence. Thank you Lord! Both mom and daughter are now reunited and needless to say, #24 stays by her moms side more than ever! Life on the peony farm during the Olympics…you have to love it!

Intersectional hybrid peonies macro photography


‘Bartzella’, perhaps my current all-time favorite intersectional hybrid peonies to photograph and grow is seen in this macro photograph during its final bloom phase. Its hard to see ‘Bart’ end the last of its blooms for the season, but with a macro lens, a completely different appreciation is shown in this photo. Even with the crazy growing season this year, the Bartzella’s in the field bloomed for 23 days. Not to be redundant, but if you do not grow Bartzella in your garden, this intersectional hybrid peony will astound you in person and through a macro lens!

portrait photo of garden peonies using a macro lens


As the peonies are in their summer ‘green’ coloration and with way too hot temps outside for this mere mortal, thought I would catch up on the blog with some end of season pictures and ramblings. Becky and a friend were busy arranging peonies and taking photos for her Facebook and Instagram Swenson Gardens sites so I asked her if she wouldn’t mind me taking a few pics for us bloggers. Notice I said ‘a few pics’ versus ‘yes dear I’d be happy to photograph all your Facebook and Instagram photos’. After taking 6000+ photos this season I was getting to the end of my peony photographs. As you can see by the lapse in time from my last post, this was a very busy year for me and a much needed break was in store. Most of my spare time during the bloom season was spent photographing and inventorying all our Roger Anderson’s seedlings. With a few hundred new 3-year old intersectional hybrid and garden peonies, I don’t know how many miles I walked up and down the fields during rain, cloudy and sunny days photographing and record keeping. I guess my passion (and OCD) to make sure all are correct and then some, came out.

So at the end of our 2016 bloom season, it was time to have fun with a different lens vs my go to lens for photographing peonies. The macro lens that was used for this portrait shot is the Tamron SP 90mm F/2.8 Di. Tamron has come out with a new Dii model but that will be in my bag next year. I know for those of you who have followed my blog over the years, Candy Stripe is still my favorite garden peony to shoot…and grow. Becky and a friend arranged this Candy Stripe bouquet and I just had to shoot it. Her friend Theresa is an unbelievable floral arranger so check Swenson Gardens Facebook and Instagram site for some amazing floral arrangements of our peonies.


The dog days of a peonies summer?


Thankfully all the peonies growth is now underneath the ground versus what we are experiencing above the ground now! We are not use to 100+ degrees heat index up here in Minnesota over the next couple of days. Though Redd lives in our insulated garage, he doesn’t want to leave his new temporary home in our back entry. Could it be the air conditioning? He thinks so as he contently naps during this heat wave. As for the peonies in the field, this burst of extremes are nothing unusual for them!