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2020 SWENSON GARDENS REVIEW

Happy New Year to all our dear peony enthusiasts. Today I pause after a busy Holiday Season and look back at 2020 here on our peony farm. Being a peony farm amidst all the crop farms around us has now been accepted amongst the generations of family owned farms. We planted our first peony roots here in 2007. At first, ‘locals’ shied away from us as ‘flower farmers’ were unheard of in this area. Now its fun to walk into the post office and grocery store and hear people ask, ‘how are the flowers doing this season’? Being able to spread some peony joy has certainly been a Godsend this year. May 2021 also cause each one of us to spread some joy to others during these trying times.

At the start of 2020, Becky was preparing her peony presentations for regional garden clubs and events. Most of her in-person presentations were canceled due to the corona virus so thank the good Lord for technology and ZOOM. She is now a pro and soon will be launching her 2021 online peony presentations to various garden clubs. If interested, email her at info@swensongardens.com for more information.

Winter here on the peony farm was very mild last year. Sure we had a few nights of -20F and snowfall was also manageable. We had some snow early on but most of our snow arrived in March. Seems like just about the time that I thought winter was over, along came another batch of snow and colder temps.

Spring finally arrived in mid-April as the peony soldiers started to wake up. The snow melting and subsequent April showers provided the much needed moisture for the peonies. All seemed great on the peony farm until we reached mid-May. Some of the early to mid blooming peonies had set there buds and wham! Three nights of 20F besieged our area. The peony fields south of our home saw many rows of peonies laying on the ground. If you’ve ever seen peonies after a few nights of 20F, your first thought is ‘oh no, they are dead’! Needless to say our phones were ringing, emails and IM’s asking ‘what should we do’? Not to be harsh, but our answer was ‘nothing’. I am just amazed at the resiliency of these crazy plants. One day they are covered in frost and a couple of days later they are standing tall again after warmer temps. Yes all the rows of peonies that were laying on the ground recovered. However, now we were faced with the visual results from the hard frosts…bud damage. Yes friends, the peony buds that were set were lost for this year. With Peony Field Days on our radar screen, should we open to the public with 25% to 40% less color due to bud damage?

Knowing we are an outside venue with loads of space to social distance, Peony Field Days 2020 was a resounding ‘YES’ lets open some of our peony fields to the public. The pent up demand to be outside certainly was evident as 3500+ plus people attended during the four days we were open to the public. When we first purchased this farm, our number one goal was to be a blessing to those who stepped foot on our property. Whether it be family, friends, neighbors, visitors, gardeners, photographers, artists and nature lovers, we wanted our farm to be a peaceful place to enjoy God’s creation. Those of you who I spoke and prayed with in the fields, thank you for sharing that you had lost a loved one recently, did not feel safe in your own home living close to the riots and were thankful we were open for Peony Field Days! Whether you like peonies or not, may not have been the reason for attending! Being able to see, smell and touch peonies is an afterthought to the joy of just being outside! Peony Field Days 2020 I will never forget you who stopped to talk with me, photographers, artists (who have a special place in my heart as my mom was an impressionistic oil and water color artist), families having a picnic lunch and yes the dogs that were having just as much fun as their handlers. Thank you again for all of you who came out for our Peony Field Days!

Peony bloom time is one of our top 3 busiest outside times of the year. How to photograph the various stages of blooms from the very early to very late varieties for the website is beyond challenging for me as the photographer. It has taken many years and various photography equipment to hon my skills. This year was especially challenging due to the lack of blooms, sunny skies and yes a few days of 85F temperatures. Being at the right place at the right time surely is exasperating during the hot days as the blooms would blow out almost immediately. Becky too was busy photographing our social media pics and experienced the same issues with fewer blooms and the high temperatures blowing blooms out. ‘Why not start up one of our coolers ,dear’? She said, ‘that would be great, dear’! Having a couple of walk-in coolers saved the day as she could take out blooms to photograph and then return them to the cooler. Thank the good Lord for coolers! Our resident hybridizer, Dan Zabel, continues his quest for the latest and greatest new peony. His skills continue to amaze us as he puts miles and miles on in the peony rows waiting for that ‘special’ time to make his crosses. It’s like Christmas in June when our new seedlings bloom for the first time. We can’t wait till this spring when hundreds of his crosses bloom for the first time.

Our weeding crew continued to do a great job in the fields hand weeding all our peonies. They are a great bunch of guys who we’ve seen a few move on to other jobs and college and also some new guys who trained in to take their places. We are so grateful for their work and award them with DQ breaks often. With our son and daughter gone off to their full time jobs, having the ‘boys’ around here helps me out in other areas of farm and landscape work.

Late June to mid August is haying time on the farm. Now its time to give back to our fertilizer production team excellent hay for the wonderful composted cow manure they provide in our peony and hay fields. Our cows only eat what we grow to make sure we know what goes in and out of them. Being a chemical free farm can only be accomplished with our own hay. We do not buy any hay as most of that hay contains chemicals. Thankfully we had a great haying season so the cows for now, are happy with their food. They have also learned and now fear our German Shepard, Heidi. When the cows think that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, we call Heidi to the rescue. She has learned that cows and calves do not belong outside of the fence. Many times I have and probably will say, ‘Heidi, get the cows!’ and she knows to herd them back into their respective pasture and loafing area. Wow is this cool or what? Now we do not have to herd them back in! Redd on the other hand who is our 11 1/2 year old red lab, doesn’t care. All he wants to do is sniff around for birds, critters and yes, rolling in not ready to compost manure. We still love him though and hope he can be with us for a few more years. The groundwork is already in process for another German Shepard, but the answer from Becky is ‘NO’! Maybe if she forgets the first two years of Heidi’s life she’ll warm up to that idea?

Last summer, Linda, our bookkeeper called me and asked if I realized how many peony orders we have received so far? I said ‘no, I haven’t added them up yet’. Needless to say she informed me of the year to date number and lets just say I gasped for air and sat down. Our orders were up 450% above the previous year. At our 2020 planning meeting, I told the crew that I was praying for a 300% increase in orders for 2020. Are you kidding? 450%! Holy moly rocky did He answer my prayers or what? ‘Thank you Lord’ is all I could say! Knowing that the Lord will not allow me anything more than I can handle, after good oxygen flow returned, I said, ‘lets go’! I would also like to thank you our new and returning customers for entrusting us with organically nurturing the peonies you purchased from us. The growth we have experienced is a testament to your willingness to purchase your peonies from us instead of other sources. You truly are part of the Swenson Gardens peony family!

The second busiest time of the year is our digging, dividing, processing and shipping season that starts in late August through early October. Knowing the number of orders we need to fulfill this year was heavy on my heart as I continued to have a full-time day job and a full-time peony job. For 38-years I have been in the leasing IT, healthcare and material handling equipment industry. I really don’t have 8-weeks of vacation built up nor can we fulfill all these orders unless I am involved from dawn till dusk everyday. Remember earlier when I said ‘the Lord will not allow me anything more than I can handle’? Well because of COVID and other circumstances, I was informed that my leasing career is over. Again, ‘thank you Lord’ is all I could say after receiving the call. He knew it was time for me to leave my day job and focus ALL my time and effort on Swenson Gardens. After a few hours of mourning, it was time to saddle up the tractors and get digging!

Now blessed with two tractors and two full time operators, let the digging begin. Never in the history of Swenson Gardens did we ever have 4 digits worth of orders to fulfill. The mainstay of our business is to provide the freshest peony roots to our customers by digging, dividing, processing and into the coolers within 24-hours. Even with this many orders, that goal was met after I was asked, sort’ve nicely, to not dig anymore peony roots and instead put my skills at dividing peonies with the other dividers. Danny, ran both tractors side by side with two crews on each tractor. Twas a sight to see as he was able to dig more without me than with me at the helm. I’m ok with that! You go Danny!

Since we mainly employ women, men and boys during the peony season, a couple people asked if their daughters could work for us? Becky and I talked this over and it was a resounding ‘yes’ to hire them. Needless to say the competition began between the boys vs girls or girls vs boys. We were so impressed with the girls (and boys too) that next year they will for sure be back. It is so cool to be able to work with younger kids and afford the chance for them to develop wonderful working skills. Their parents are also very appreciative and notice a difference in their kids after working here. Not sure if it is their new found work ethics or the DQ’s, cookies and donuts that are available to them most of the time.

Our first dig is our busiest with USDA growing zones 2-5 orders. This includes shipping, pick up and our peony barn sale roots. The weather was great as no rain was received so the crews could work Monday – Saturday. The crews pace quickened knowing the amount of orders and the window needed to complete this task. Knowing how busy we were in 2019 and that orders were up 450% from last year, we were done 1-week earlier than last year! Really? Yup! I am so thankful for our team and the increased efficiency we implemented during our planning meeting. Oh and me not running a tractor helped too! So for 2021, I’m praying for a 200% increase in sales to make up for the 1-week ahead of schedule digging window.

The international dig and USDA growing zones 3-8a orders saw a change in sunny days to now rainy days and nights. This slows down the digging crew but thankfully they slogged through the rows having to revert to hand digging some of the varieties as the tractor was not able to get into those rows.

The third busiest time outside during the season is planting. With all our new Swenson Gardens exclusive seedlings, planting has increased substantially over just propagating named varieties. With planting, our fields are prepared 2-3 years in advance with composted cow manure, cover crops and trade secret hi brix soil amendments. Now to fit planting in a weather window that is not too dry or wet. Once we have a window, let the fun begin. Our team was able to plant 3400 peonies over 1 1/2 days. This too is a record knowing that each root is hand placed and positioned correctly before they are hilled over with the tractor attachment. Needless to say there was some sore backs and knees from all the bending. We choose to do hand placement versus just throwing them in the furrow and hilling them over. Yes it takes more time but the results are amazing.

After planting its time to clean up, organize and store everything for next season. Becky loves to do this as it signifies the end of the season at least outside work for her and most of the team. Now we wait for the ground to freeze with 2-4 inches of frost so we can cover all the first year plants. Of course this year with the late freeze the ground was not ready until mid-December. Yours truly was not able to help mulching this year as my rotator cuff finally went and surgery was on November 19th. No lifting more than a cup of tea for 3-months? Sorry Danny, no can do this year so you will have to handle this part too. Instead of using corn stalks that we baled from neighbors fields, we bought a semi-load of oat straw from northern Minnesota. The round bales went through our bale buster implement and now the outside work is done! Vacation time for me? Nope!

The 3000+ peony photos and website upgrades needed to be done in order to launch our 2021 website. Thankfully most of the work was done before surgery so minor additions and corrections were needed after the disk was dropped off at our webmaster. Our 2021 website launched on December 12th. A few changes were done to our shopping cart experience by switching to Square instead of PayPal so hopefully this is working out well while placing an order. Ok it is now time for a few weeks vacation and healing for my shoulder as we prepare for the spring. Seeing white outside in our fields is a soothing feeling knowing what will be changing as we start this process all over. To be honest, I already miss it knowing the joy our fields brings to others as well as ourselves. Have a Happy New Year and look forward to hearing from you or seeing you in the peony fields!


2021 SWENSON GARDENS WEBSITE UPDATE

Greetings dear peony friends! Our webmaster is hard at working updating our 2021 website. Please be patient as I’ve given him a ton of new peonies to upload. This will be a record setting launch with 182 total varieties. That includes 86 new varieties of which 36 of those are our new exclusive peony seedlings.

Some of you may be asking, ‘what is a Swenson Gardens exclusive peony seedling’? Well, I’m glad you asked! Swenson Gardens continues to be the worlds largest peony hybridizer of new herbaceous/lactiflora/garden and intersectional/Itoh hybrid peonies. A peony seedling is an unnamed variety that we at Swenson Gardens has bred and also the last generation of Roger F Anderson’s peony seedlings that we purchased from him in 2013. All of our peony seedlings that we sell are painstakingly registered with the American Peony Society.

Make no mistake, our new peony seedlings are known around the world as the new peonies to have in your garden and in some cases, commercially. Take for example ‘Wonderous Delight’. This is the first early bloom time, full double, cut flower, no staking and very fragrant white peony in the world that was hybridized by Swenson Gardens. Intersectional/Itoh hybrid exclusive new peonies? ‘Tonka Purple’, hybridized by Roger F Anderson which is a semi-double to double purple. Again, first of its kind…in the world.

Yes we have been working overtime to release our world class peonies for 2021. Now if yours truly can be a good patient as I heal up from rotator cuff surgery on 19 November. Typing with one finger is driving me crazy but am thankful that I can still hold a cup of tea with my left arm…for the next 3 months?! Happy peony shopping, soon!

SEPTEMBER 25, 2020 LAST DAY TO ORDER!


Hard to believe that Swenson Gardens 2020 peony season is coming to an end. Last day to order is September 25, 2020. Thank you to all our existing gardeners and new gardeners who have purchased our chemical free bare root peonies this season. We look forward to digging and shipping this last group of orders in the very near future. Our 2021 website will be opening later this year so check back for more info. Happy planting!

PEONY PICK UP AND BARN SALE DAYS 9/11/20 AND 9/12/20 FROM 9am to 5 PM

Swenson Gardens customers, its time to pick up your orders. Our teams have completed the first peony dig and all orders are ready for pick up on Friday, September 11th and Saturday, September 12th from 9am to 5PM. The address again is 10958 70th ST SW, Howard Lake, MN. Head north on our driveway towards our house as parking is available up here. Staff will be available to give you hands on planting instructions and talk peonies. If you haven’t decided where to plant them yet, make sure their site location has at least 8 hours of sunlight, good ventilation and for sure, a well drained location. Also on our website, we note the width of the peonies when mature. DO NOT plant in a location where they will not have room to grow. They do not like to be crowded out by other peonies, perennials, shrubs and trees. For sure do not plant them in a site location where a peony was planted before unless you excavate a cubic yard of original soil and replace with new black dirt or topsoil.

Yes peony gardeners, our annual Peony Barn Sale will be open during peony pick up days. Peonies are available on a first come first served basis so sorry there is no pre-buy or save options. We do not have a list of varieties available so plan to arrive early for best selections. Our Peony Barn Sale is open to the public so load up the mini-van with friends and family to enjoy discounted pricing on wholesale roots and some leftover retail roots. Only cash and personal checks accepted. Sorry but no credit and debit cards accepted.

Swenson Gardens peony starter fertilizer will be available to purchase onsite at $3.00 per bag. We suggest one bag per peony. Sorry but we do not ship our fertilizer so now is the time to buy during these days. This fertilizer is all chemical free and is similar to what we use in our peony fields. Only cash and personal checks accepted. Sorry but no credit and debit cards accepted.

Knowing the COVID 19 times we are living in, please do not enter our property if you are experiencing symptoms or have been exposed to this virus recently. If you cannot pick up your order due to symptoms during pick up days, please email us at: info@swensongardens.com to make other arrangements if you cannot find someone else to pick up your order.

Thank you again for choosing Swenson Gardens as your chemical free peony grower! We look forward to seeing you again!


ORDERING SWENSON GARDENS PEONIES

Hard to believe we are getting to the end of our 2020 Swenson Gardens peony season. For those of you who ordered online, there were three choices for shipping and pick up. Let me explain in detail what that means and what we suggest for planting times in your USDA Growing Zones.

Option 1 – First ship date order by August 14, 2020. This option is the preferred time for gardeners in USDA Growing Zones 2 – 5 to plant their peonies. Orders will be shipped in mid-September. This is not the best time for gardeners in USDA Growing Zones 6 – 8 coastal due to the higher temps in those zones. Thus if you are in Zones 6 – 8 coastal and checked this date, we moved you to the second ship date. Since Zones 2 – 5 are cooler locations, this is the preferred time to plant peonies.

Option 2 – Second ship date order by September 25, 2020. This option is the preferred time for gardeners in USDA Growing Zones 6 – 8 coastal to plant their peonies. Orders will be shipped in mid-October. It is still ok though for gardeners in USDA Growing Zones 3 – 5 to order and plant their peonies before the ground freezes. Zone 2 orders would not be advisable due to the possibility of the ground being frozen. The last day to order for 2020 is September 25th.

Pick up – The last day to order for pick up is August 14, 2020. No pick up orders available after this date. Pick up days are September 11th and 12th, 2020 from 9a to 5P.

Thanks again for the opportunity of nurturing your peonies this year. Happy planting…soon!

PEONY FIELD DAYS FOR JUNE 12 & 13, 2020

As we look over the peony fields, our final days of Peony Field Days on June 12 & 13, 2020, should be spectacular with color. Yes the early, early to mid and mid bloom varieties are done or almost done, but the intersectionals and mid to late and late garden varieties are prime viewing. Oh and the weather forecast? Absolutely divine! Load up your vehicles and head to 10958 70th ST SW, Howard Lake, MN for a destination of pure peony bliss. We are open from 9a to 5P. As always, we are NOT open on Sunday, June 14, 2020. Looking forward to seeing you at Swenson Gardens Peony Field Days!

SWENSON GARDENS PEONIES ONLINE INVENTORY

After an amazing Peony Field Days on June 5th and 6th, 2020, we are updating our inventory in real time as we take count of additional quantities for sale. Check back often to see if some of the varieties you wanted are again available for sale. Over the two glorious days of Peony Field Days, over 1500 people strolled through our production fields. What a sight to behold as young and old were able to view our peonies. More information will be forthcoming for bloom times in a couple of days. Some of the late varieties started to open today. With the 98 degrees F yesterday, that blast of heat really opened up additional colors in the fields. Our last two days of Peony Field Days will be held on Friday, June 12th and Saturday, June 13th, 2020. We are not open after that for public viewing. All ordering will be through our online store at SwensonGardens.com.

PEONY FIELD DAYS FOR JUNE 5 AND 6, 2020

Swenson Gardens Peony Field Days for 2020 are ready for you to come and visit! We are open from 9a to 5P on Friday, June 5th and Saturday, June 6th, 2020. We are not open on Sunday, June 7th. With the two days of 90 degrees earlier this week, the early to mid and mid blooms are starting and/or at prime. Most of the intersectional/Itoh hybrid peonies have started their primary blooms. The very early and early peonies are done blooming. If you go back to my previous post on ‘Frosty Peonies’, yup, the two nights of a hard frost did reduce our buds and even nipped entire buds on plants that did not bloom. The foliage on the majority of our plants look great and on a small percentage of plants, not so good because of the frosts. Fields are very dry so no boots needed for these days. If you haven’t had a chance to read my previous post, please do especially for those who have never been here before. Looking forward to seeing you at Swenson Gardens Peony Field Days!

JUNE 5, 6, 12 & 13 PEONY FIELD DAYS – 9a to 5P

Calling all peony gardeners, collectors, photographers, artists, enthusiasts and novices, Swenson Gardens Peony Field Days is official! Yes, friends, it’s time to enjoy the peony blooms up close, but maybe not too personal. We are open on Friday, June 5th, Saturday, June 6th, Friday, June 12th and Saturday, June 13th from 9a to 5P. We will NOT be open on SUNDAY’S during those weekends. These four dates are weather dependent so any changes/cancellations will be noted on our blog, Facebook and Instagram pages, or you can call us at 763-350-2051 for more info.

Experts will be onsite for any peony related questions you may have! For those of you who may not be able to walk through the many rows of peonies, there will be a drop-off location next to the big white tent with better access to the display field. Additionally, you can drive up and down our driveway to view many of our varieties from the road. Please be careful driving while on our property as others will be walking on the driveway.

Location/Parking Information: For those of you who are new to Swenson Gardens Peony Field Days, our address is 10958 70th ST SW, Howard Lake, MN. The parking lot is a quick right hand turn upon entering our driveway. After you are parked, walk north on the driveway to our big white information tent. From there you will receive instructions on how best to make your way through our five, yes five, fields of peonies. Most of our fields include plants that are 2 and 3 years old and one of our fields has a few 4 year old intersectional/Itoh hybrid peonies. Yes folks, time to lace up your shoes and stretch your legs as you make your way up and down the peony rows, if are able to do so.

Ordering: For your safety and the safety of others, we will only be using online ordering for this year’s Peony Field Days. Please bring your smartphone or tablet to order as you walk through the field or sit in your car (no ordering and driving, please). We will not have in-person cash or check ordering as we have had in the past. However, if you do not have access to a smart phone, tablet or computer, please visit the information tent and we can order for you on one of our devices. As you can tell by the number of varieties that are already sold out, we have had a banner year of peony bare root sales, so if you have your eye on some new peony additions to your garden, we suggest ordering as soon so possible to ensure they are still in stock. Our online store keeps track of our inventory in real time so if you submit an order and it is rejected, it may mean the quantities you are ordering are not available or that variety is sold out.

COVID-19 Precautions: Please maintain a minimum distance of 6 feet between groups. Thankfully, our many fields make it easy to keep your distance from other people. Please do not enter our property if you are sick, have been knowingly exposed to anyone with COVID-19, or have any serious underlying health concerns that may put you at risk. In other words, use common sense. Masks are optional to wear, as the outdoor nature of the event significantly reduces transmission risk. However, if you would like to wear one, please feel free to do so. If you have any additional questions and concerns, please email us at info@swensongardens.com.

Insurance Disclaimer: Now the yearly disclaimer to satisfy our insurance company, Swenson Gardens, LLC, Becky and Keith Swenson and any of our employees and staff, will not be held liable for any injury, death, theft and personal property damage while visiting our property located at 10958 70th Street SW, Howard Lake, MN 55349 during Swenson Gardens Peony Field Days. You have voluntarily chosen to enter our property at your own risk. We want all visitors to be safe and considerate on our property.

Additional Information: Did we mention to the new visitors at Peony Field Days that we are dog friendly? Yes it is okay to bring your four legged family member as long as they are on a leash and are cleaned up after. Water is not available here so please bring the necessary means of hydration with you. Time for a family picnic? The lawn south and east of our house is the perfect picnic location, and offers great views of the pond and peony fields. Please be respectful of all our Purple Martins living in four different houses. My guess is we have at least 40 pairs of Martins so enjoy these aerobatic wonders in the sky. For parents with small children, please keep tabs on them in the peony fields and around our farm as we have electric fences for the fertilizer production team, aka our herd of Dexter cows. Finally, the areas north of our home are not open to the public.

Once we get closer to Peony Field Days we will update the blog with varieties in bloom and any changing conditions in the fields. Boots may be in order depending on rainfall and may be handy to bring with. Also if using any mosquito or tick repellent, please put on in the parking lot and do not spray while in the peony fields. We wouldn’t want to change the fact that we are the world’s largest chemical free peony grower by spraying anything in our peony fields, would we? We have a tie this year for our very early blooming varieties, Fantasia and Sprite. Congratulations Saunders varieties for the first color of the year. Can’t wait to see you at Swenson Gardens 2020 Peony Field Days!

2020 PEONY FIELD DAYS

Information, dates and times will be forthcoming on Swenson Gardens 2020 Peony Field Days. Timing of this is always tricky as we cannot predict what the weather will be for a normal spring peony bloom. In a normal spring, peak blooms occur the first few weeks of June. For those of you who are new to the Swenson Gardens peony family, Peony Field Days is a chance to walk through our production fields looking, smelling, photographing and even painting these amazing perennials. Our fields are only open two Friday’s and two Saturday’s in the spring. Most of our business is through our online store so if you are thinking about purchasing some bare root peonies for delivery or pick up this fall, you may want to consider ordering now as we are starting to sell out for this year. Stay tuned for more information on our website, Facebook and Instagram pages. Looking forward to seeing you on our peony farm!