Swenson Gardens

Yearly Archive: 2017


All hands on deck here to get the peonies ready for our Peony Field Days on June 2nd and 3rd. Please note we will not be open on June 4th. Where we are at in the bloom time today is early and some early to mid varieties. Most of the very early varieties are now done. With the warmer weather coming on Thursday and Friday, wouldn’t be surprised if some of the mids start. Today a few of the intersectional hybrid peonies started to show some color. One of my top five reds, ‘America’, should be peaking by Friday. Becky was out photographing some pics for our social media sites so she is the guest photographer on the following pics. The first one is America and the second one is Lotus Bloom.

SG 2017 America Row WMSG 2017 Lotus Bloom row WM

I am always amazed at the various micro-climates in our growing fields. Perhaps you notice that in your gardens too when the same peonies grow at different stages based on their location. In one of our test fields, Morning Lilac and Gordon E Simonsin were at their peak bloom. Morning Lilac is usually one of our first intersectional hybrid peonies to bloom. This is not the case in the fields that will be open for your trip to Peony Field Days. Hillary, First Arrival and Yellow Emperor showed some color today. The first one is Morning Lilac and the second one is Gordon E Simonsin.

Morning Lilac-1Gordon E Simonsin-1

For those of you unfamiliar with the terms early, mid and late blooms, the standard to determine peonies bloom times are based on when Red Charm blooms. Any varieties blooming before Red Charm are considered very early and early. Those blooming after Red Charm are considered early to mid, mid, mid to late, late and very late. Red Charm, Red Grace and Christmas Velvet started to bloom today. They should peak later this week or on Saturday. Another one of my top five reds is pictured below, Christmas Velvet.

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I’m assuming that with the warmer weather coming, our fields will start to show more color. Remember that if you are coming on the 2nd or 3rd, the color and varieties will change for the 9th and 10th. Many of our gardening friends come on the 2nd or 3rd and also on the 9th and 10th. That way they can see more varieties as their bloom time changes. Looking ahead at the weather, I’m sure you also see the 40% chance of thunderstorms on Saturday, June 3rd. Make sure to check our blog, Facebook and 763-350-2051 for any changes and closures due to severe weather. Now for insurance purposes, I do have to post the following for those of you who will be stopping out at Peony Field Days. Swenson Gardens will not be liable for any injury or loss while you are on our property located at 10958 70th Street SW, Howard Lake, MN 55349. Please be careful on our property as we want all of you to enjoy your visit whether walking or driving on our property. The parking lot will be located on the east side of our driveway close to 70th Street SW. The information tent is located on the west side of our driveway. Stop in there first before walking through our fields to pick up your field maps and additional info.¬† For those of you who are enjoying our fields from a vehicle, you can drive straight north on our driveway and be able to view some of our peonies up close on the east side of our driveway. Proceed north past our home and there is a turn around circle just past our home. Oh and yes we will have a mini biff in the parking lot. Parents make sure to keep tabs on your children while walking through the fields. We are a dog and cat friendly farm as long as they are on a leash and you know what to do with number 2’s! The honey bees that are collecting pollen on the peonies are from our hives. They are quite docile as they are Italian honey bees. They won’t sting you unless harassed so let them do their thing and snap a photo or two. We do not sell cut flower peonies but will be happy to sell you some bare root peonies for pick up or delivery in the fall! Don’t forget to bring your camera, sunscreen, bug spray (please do not spray in the peony fields) and boots as some of the areas to walk between the fields are wet. We did plant a cover crop between the rows instead of walking on bare dirt. Also, if you want to have a picnic with family and friends, you are able to lay out a blanket south of our home on our lawn. There you will literally get a birds eye view of the Purple Martins who are tending to their young in our Purple Martin houses. I haven’t seen the Pie Bald Robin lately so not sure if it has left or perhaps it was the female and she is on her nest. Finally, all our fields south of our home will be open during your visit. This includes the fields south of our home which has the wind fence around them. Yes you will get a sneak peak at some amazing new varieties coming out in the next few years. Please note that any areas north of our home are not open during your visit including the pastures where the fertilizer production team resides and yes the fences are electric. Some of you have asked about local restaurants, here are a few we suggest; Delano – Peppermint Twist, Waverly – Waverly Cafe, Howard Lake – Frontera Cafe & Bistro and Cokato – Bait & Hook (dinner only and reservations accepted). We are looking forward to seeing you at Peony Field Days and of course the peonies are too!


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.

Britta calf-1

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.

Pelicans 2-1Pelicans-1

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!



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!