Swenson Gardens

Monthly Archive: May 2017


Ok so what do we do when the outside temp is 39 F, 2 inches of rain (so far) and the peonies are pouting? We contemplate what needs to be done before Peony Field Days and organize photos. It doesn’t take long to click off a few hundred photos during prime light but we also take the chance to photograph life on the peony farm.

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Welcome our new heifer calf that was recently born. Isn’t she, including our daughter, ever so cute! Dexter calves are so sweet and adorable…just like our daughter! Of course dad isn’t too biased here so ‘little moo’ welcome your new life on the peony farm as part of our fertilizer production team!


We took inventory on our Purple Martin pairs and we are currently up to 24. Only one egg was counted so far. And yes we do have a few sparrows that took over a few boxes. I tend to agree with my mom in regards to sparrows. See an earlier post regarding my dad’s love of all living things. No I did not take a broom out to chase them away but I did encourage them to build their nests elsewhere.

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Now this is not a site we’ve ever seen on our pond. A flock of American White Pelicans stopped in for a quick bite to eat. For those of you who have never seen our pond that we share with our neighbor, it may be about 1-2 acres in size. Definitely not big enough to hold this many Pelicans so we were glad that they left as the photo on the right shows them in a feeding frenzy. Perhaps minnows were on the diet plan that day?


We’ve had many visitors both two legged and four legged, but this snapping turtle decided that our driveway in back of our house was a perfect place to lay her eggs. Needless to say Jazz and Felix had other ideas. Redd was quickly whisked into his kennel as that would not be a good situation. After putting on some leather gloves and approaching from the rear, the ‘snapper’ was hand delivered to another area where many different types of turtles have laid their eggs. Over the years we’ve had snappers in our barns and even in our garage. Life on the peony farm…you got to love it!


First bloom subspecies 'Hutthi'

And the winner of the first peonies bloom for 2017 is Paeonia Officinalis subsp ‘huthii’! We were beginning to wonder if the peonies would ever show amidst the colder temperatures we were having. Now with warmer temps the next few days, who knows what will happen with the blooms. We should be announcing Peony Field Days early next week. Rumor has it the first part of June but we are not sure if the second dates will be a week earlier or later. Some of you may be wondering what is this peony called Paeonia Officinalis subsp ‘huthii’? I’ll try to keep this brief to give you a high level answer. So a few thousand years ago, peonies were found in various regions of the world. Of those recognized today, (13) were ‘species’ peonies like ‘Paeonia Officinallis‘ and (27) were ‘subspecies’ like ‘huthii‘. In other words, out of those original (40) peonies, today we have over 7,000 named peony varieties that have been registered by the American Peony Society ‘APS’. Is that cool or what! We use ‘huthii’ extensively in our hybridizing efforts both from a purple bloom standpoint and also for its blue green foliage, but most of all it is normally our first or second peony to bloom since we imported it from France. Welcome to the Swenson Gardens peony blooms for 2017. Oh and yes this was shot with our new Sony A99II and Zeiss 2.8/24070 ZA SSM II lens. And no this shot has not had post processing. I can’t wait for more peony blooms!

Tied for 2nd Little Red Gem

Speaking of more peony blooms and Redd shots too, we have a tie for second place. Here Redd is guarding ‘Little Red Gem’ knowing that at least in part, three of the letters in his name match the middle word of this variety. Who knows why he decided to sit and rest by this variety? In any event what a lovely shot! We just love this variety for its fern leaf foliage and easy growing characteristics versus the ‘tenuifolia’s’ or fern leaf peonies. We use to grow fern leaf’s but after seeing the vigor and foliage of these new hybrids, the fern leaf’s are gone. For you fern leaf peony lovers, you really need to try ‘Little Red Gem’! I know Redd likes it so you should too.

Tied for 2nd Lil' Sweetie

Ok so Redd got bored and wanted you to see the other peony blooms that tied for second place. ‘Lil’ Sweetie’ is its name and it also sports the fern leaf foliage. Blooms are held higher above the foliage and its size is smaller than ‘Little Red Gem’. Many of our customers plant these in rock gardens or where space is a concern. I think Redd likes this one too as he can see over it when he’s taking a break. What a fun evening walking through the peony fields tonight! I can only imagine what the fields will look like when more of the peonies start blooming!


As I mentioned in an earlier post, we had been seeing, what I had thought, an Albino Robin on our peony farm. Finally at 8 PM tonight, he or she appeared in its favorite spot down by our east peony field close to our pond. We have not seen it for a few days so instead of trying to photograph from our second story window roughly 250 yards away, I ran out the door and tried to get closer. No time for the monopod so shooting freehand with the big glass proved to be a bit trying. So for now, here are the best pics I could get.

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After taking these pics the bird flew about 300 yards west so off I went running to see if I could get closer. Little did I realize that I’m still wearing my inside slippers running through a rather wet area. Oh well, slippers can always be replaced! There it is in the recently cultivated field! Somewhat closer were these shots so perhaps a blind may be in order to wait for a closer shot? Off it flew back to the east with no idea where it landed.

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Ok I’m done running around our fields and our neighbors field so will end with this post as the light was diminishing quickly. I did some research on these amazing and rare color appearance on the American Robin. As best as I can ascertain, the closest photographs appear to be a ‘Piebald Robin’. Other names like ‘Partial Albino’ and ‘leucism Robin’ were also mentioned. In any event, this is/was a once in a lifetime event for this amateur bird photographer. Wouldn’t it be great if this Piebald Robin stayed around for Peony Field Days especially for the photography clubs that are coming out? I’m still waiting for the perfect shot when she or he spends some time in our peonies!



My, my how the last few days and nights have slowed down our peonies growth! This spring reminds me of a similar spring we had about 10-years ago in our former Delano, MN growing field. High temps early in the growing season only to beset with low 20’s and frost when the buds on all the peonies were set. Thankfully we are not that far along in the growing season so even with the forecasted snow, our peonies will be fine. However, for those of you who are vegetable gardeners, make sure to plant your snow peas on the last snowfall of the season! I’m forecasting that this will be true so Monday or Tuesday, get the snow peas in the ground! And yes that is true that the snow peas will be sweeter! We are patiently waiting for the field crew to get in the peony¬†fields and in talking with our field crew, they too are asking when they can get back to work! Looks like after this next round of crazy weather, temps should get back to normal. Whether we worry about the weather or whether the peonies worry about the weather, we’ve found it better to just let the peonies grow according to their timetable and not worry about the weather!



If our future peonies who will be planted in this field only knew the beauty and help this shot of our cover crops are doing for them!


Looking for some color led me to some of our tulips that are still closed up and anxiously awaiting warmer weather. As I mentioned in a previous post, adjusting and shooting in manual really allows creativity in composing your shot. I tried to envision the sea of color in our peony fields, but for now I’m thankful for the cheery colors of spring with tulips.


With high winds and more rain forecasted, one last shot of our Magnolia Bush ended a fun afternoon of photography. Thanks for touching our senses again this spring and will look forward to your sweet scent next year! Now we wait for peonies...




For the past two days an Albino Robin and its mate have been hanging around our peony farm. Of course every time we saw it all we had was a smart phone and not the big lens so this afternoon I put on the 70-400 G glass with hopes of seeing it! Yes I photographed this Robin while trekking through our fields, but no sightings of the Albino Robin. In all my years, I have never seen one so if the pair stays around, you can be sure the big glass is ready and waiting!


One last area to scope out is our pond north of our former peony field. I’m happy with all birds so time to compose this shot of a Red Winged Blackbird.


What was that flash of yellow? Very cool as a small flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers were enjoying themselves on the shores of our pond. This is getting more interesting…


Seeing the ducks that have been hanging out on our pond, looked intriguing from our home, but now I am on the south end of our pond looking north with the G glass steadied on a monopod. WOW! I have never seen this assortment of diver ducks so content to be together. Happy resting ducks before heading way up north for the summer!


Now comes the tough shot! How fast can this Sony A99II focus in on the Tree Swallows dive bombing the lower flying insects on our pond? Going over my check list; WB cloudy, wide open shot, ISO 1600, F8, 1/1250 and click! I LOVE this camera!


Before leaving our exciting pond and shots, white, gray and black colors are very hard to shoot. Lets see what this full frame body and lens can do on gray bark. Enough said when you look at the detail rendered. Life on the peony farm…today was a chance to rest and take some fun shots!