It has taken me a long time to understand why planting peonies really does need good planning. People who visit my farm always think I started with some “grand plan” for all 6 acres of gardens, when in fact, it unfolded year to year with a plan that stretched out 6 months at the most.  As a result of this lack of a long-range plan, my farm now has 4 different areas where we have planted peonies and each area has some duplication in terms of variety.  For example, you could find ‘Festiva’ in all four beds, but you’d only find ‘Shirley Temples’ in one bed.  Each year we think we have a good understanding of where each variety is and when to cut it.  But, memory is no substitute for a good layout – especially when we have new workers and even those of us who have cut from these beds for 6 plus years have lousy recollections of what’s where.  
I love peonies.  They are always in demand and they fetch a good price. So I’m glad I have all these plants (about 1200). In retrospect, however, here are some things I would do differently if I were just starting:

•   Find a good marking system. This is so I’m sure that I know all the plants in a certain row are what I expect.  This problem is particularly important for peonies because many customers want to order a specific variety and they don’t like the idea of just taking “white”. But a good marking system has been a challenge for me on some other plantings as well – especially those associated with the ASCFG trials. I’d like to see an article in the Quarterly addressing this ‘marking and identification” problem.  How have other growers solved the problem?

•   Plant fewer varieties.  In my addiction to try everything, I have too may different varieties.  Some really are unreliable in terms of opening and shouldn’t be taking up valuable space – they are also confusing to those who are trying to cut them at the critical stage.  Frankly, a good white, a light pink and a dark pink are all I should have planted (along with ‘Red Charm’ which I discuss later).  Bernie Van Essendelft (Dual Venture Farm) sold me 3 varieties 13 years ago: ‘Festiva Maxima’, ‘Mons Jules Eli’, and ‘Sara Bernhardt’.  Today, they are still my most productive and the easiest to recognize when it’s time to cut.  Wish I had a few hundred more of just these plants now.

•   Plant more ‘Red Charm’ and ‘Coral Charm’.  I was fortunate to plant a few ‘Red Charms’ 8 years ago – I fell in love with them and so did everyone who saw them.  So, four years ago I planted 100 big roots in a long row on the side of my hill.  Today they are fabulous.  They are normally early, but with a south-facing hill they are really early (not this year – we didn’t even have them for Mother’s Day because of the cold spring).  I wish I had 3 rows of ‘Red Charm’, and I also wish I had planted an equal number of ‘Coral Charm’ or ‘Pink Hawaiian Coral’ or ‘Coral Sunset’, or one of the many other corals that Ed Pincus has so successfully grown in his Vermont gardens.

•   Learn how to store peonies dry in a cooler.  I’ve finally figured how to do that, but not before selling them too cheaply because I was afraid to hold them.
Our peony season is over.  It was good one.  Demand seems to continue to climb and with the cold spring in much of the country, supply was thin and prices were high.  Through the first week in June, many florists were still paying around $20 per bunch in our market.  So, order some more peony roots for planting this fall and plan on putting them in after I see you at the Conference in Lancaster in September.