Swenson Gardens

Monthly Archive: April 2017



The first Purple Martin (PM) scouts of 2017 showed up on April 17th here on the peony farm! I should have posted earlier but its been rather busy here on the peony farm. This immature pair photo was taken this afternoon as they huddled together to stay warm. So far maybe 10 pairs have shown up and yes I am a little concerned for them based on the cooler temps (insect life is rather limited) and with snow forecasted, I talked with a local PM expert who stated that they can live without food for 3-4 days. With warmer temps coming, I hope they can make it till the bugs start flying again. Haven’t seen too many adults yet as I’m thinking they are wiser knowing the weather we are experiencing. Welcome back to the peony farm PM’s and stay warm!



For those of you peonies enthusiasts visiting our blog from our social media sites, welcome! If this is your first time visiting our blog check back every once and awhile for more posts. Ok so this doesn’t seem fair and/or maybe even funny to those of you who remember winter, but thought I’d liven it up a bit with this shot. Peonies would definitely not be growing in this scene nor do we have anything close to the mid-teen degrees F temps when I shot this pic. For those of you emailing and calling regarding the temps that we will be experiencing tonight and possibly tomorrow night, peonies are use to this and are way smarter than us mere gardeners. Our gardening friends in Fairbanks, AK, lucky you, as you are warmer than us. Those of you in northern Minnesota, you are fine too. For us in central Minnesota, we are fine too. I’m not concerned with peonies until the temperature gets to 19 degrees F for 2-3 nights in a row. We had that scenario about 10-years ago and even then the plants did fine although a lot of the buds did not bloom. This is normal during a peonies life cycle. For us in the Howard Lake, MN area it looks like high 20’s to low 30’s degree F for the next couple of nights. I’ll leave it up to you gardeners if you want to cover your peonies but please be careful to support any covering as the weight of your material could break the stems if left to them supporting your material. As far as us trying to cover our peonies, I’m ok with the temps that are forecasted so sleep well peonies…and peony gardeners too!




Taking a stroll around our home this afternoon led to some great shots of peonies! The joy and anticipation for us up here is the same no matter if the peonies are just peeking out of the ground, blooming or cutting the bushes to the ground in the fall. It still fascinates me by the passion of peony enthusiasts. It can be winter time and the memories of peonies never fade! Conversations about peonies last for generations!


Seeing the first buds of an early peony variety left me awestruck on this shot. Enough said when you hover your cursor over this pic and expand it to full screen. By the way if you haven’t tried that before, all the pictures on our blog can be expanded to full screen by doing that.


Ok, so which shot of this species peony do you like better? Shooting in manual and focusing in manual allows many changes to your composure. For me I actually like both shots of this species peony.


Last but certainly not least is a shot taken of one of our peony fields. Here you can gauge the bloom time by the peonies growth. This past week and especially yesterday, were very busy with the field crew. All the cornstalk mulch was removed (manually with pitchforks) between the rows in our new field, cultivating and tilling was done between the rows and finally the last field was seeded with an annual cover crop between the rows at 8:15 PM last night. Needless to say they did an unbelievable and we are so proud of our field crew! Thank you young men for the great job and very hard manual labor. We calculated that they walk over 7-miles yesterday in the peony fields! Maybe that’s why are peonies grow so well for us as they have the easiest job on our peony farm and we have the hardest job caring for them without chemicals!




Greetings fellow peony enthusiasts! Moments ago some diffused sunlight peeked out so as noted in a previous post, time to try out my new Sony and the Tamron SP 90mm Di MACRO lens. I am not a fan of using auto focus while shooting a macro lens but alas, prescription glasses to correct my near field astigmatism has allowed me to get back to manual focus. Much, much faster versus the searching that use to transpire. Although this new Tamron is faster than the previous model (and cheaper by the way), I do like manual when composing the shot. Since we are a honey bee safe zone on our farm, please let dandelions live versus spraying them! They are some of the first flowers that give our honey bees the necessary energy after a long winter hibernation.


This is another source of food for honey bees. Yes the dreaded ‘Creeping Charley’. This is one noxious weed that I am not a fan of as it chokes out all good grasses and can take over perennial and vegetable gardens. Even though the macro lens opened up a new view of it, I still think of the work it will take to pull this weed out of our beds. The best way we’ve found is to add another sheet of black plastic over our decaying western red cedar mulch in our beds and add more mulch. It is a never ending battle so if any of you have any chemical free approaches please email us at info@swensongardens.com.


Oh the sweet smells of spring bulbs!


One of our favorite smells in the spring is from our Magnolia Bush. The former owners of our farm said to wait till the next spring and enjoy the fragrance. Wow were they right. This bush is by far a touch of Heaven on earth! Thankfully this scent touches all our senses and each time I smell it, it reminds me that the peonies are a few weeks away from blooming!



Some of our early peonies are starting to wake up. Yes its fun during peony bloom time to see all the colors, but after looking at black soil, the burgundy and green soldiers are back! Once it stops raining this week, the macro lens will most definitely be out shooting the amazing detail of the peonies!



Time to try out our new toy on the peony farm! Before all the rain as of late made our fieldwork impossible, the new rotary tiller made its debut. Wow what a difference 93″ makes versus our current 54″! Now with a 100hp tractor to turn this beast, our tilling time in new peony planting fields prep are greatly reduced.


Oh and Redd likes to ride along too. He definitely likes this rotary tiller better as he doesn’t get bounced around as much like he did with our small tiller and tractor. Maybe its the space he has to fall asleep on the floor whereby on our other tractor he didn’t have any area to sleep!


Bring on another round of cover crops as we get ready to replant peonies again this fall here! For those of you who picked up your bare-root peonies last fall, this was the field east of our driveway that had sunflowers and oats planted. This year we get serious with cover crops as we start to rebuild the soil. Yes we are planting sunflowers again as the birds and wildlife really liked an unlimited food source but one of the cover crops we are using is buckwheat. Not only is buckwheat good as a pollinator source, but it also helps the soil rejuvenate itself for planting our peonies. http://covercrops.cals.cornell.edu/buckwheat.php Cornell University is a great resource that we use to determine our cover crops as well as our local USDA agriculture office. There are a couple more cover crops that we are testing and will let you know how they do in a few years. This particular field was not amended when we planted our first peonies here in 2007. Because we were moving thousands of plants from our former field, we didn’t have the time to properly amend the soil like we do now. In 3-5 years, this field will be back to a sea of color like some of you may have seen during our peony field days.


What a difference even one year of cover crops makes to rejuvenate the soil in our future peony field!




Fire on the peony farm! For those of you on our social media sites, this is old news for you but us bloggers need some action too! Yes friends it was a hot evening here a couple of weeks ago. No fears as this was a controlled burn by our local fire department. Burning off the old grass from the last two years encourages new growth. About seven years ago we had planted this field south of the peonies with native prairie grass and pollinators. Unfortunately the noxious canary reed grass took over. Perhaps some year we will try again with natives, but for now we replanted with more invasive ‘good grasses’ like Timothy, Orchard Grass and Fescue. Of course the fertilizer production team is very happy with aforementioned choices of fodder.


As the fire on the peony farm completes its task, a lone fireman cautiously approaches the heart of the fire and extinguishes any remaining hot spots. Thank you to all the local fireman that kept the neighbors, ourselves and most of all, our peonies safe!