Question: How can a long-time peony grower reduce her stock by roughly a thousand plants without (a) digging them all herself, or (b) having a thousand John and Jane Q. Publics invade her farm wanting to dig just one plant each?

Answer: Mobilize the ASCFG communications network, post a dig-it-yourself sale announcement with a minimum order requirement of 30 plants, and sit back (almost) and watch other enthusiastic flower growers do all the work.

It couldn’t have happened without the ASCFG. My husband and I have run Maple Ridge Peony Farm in western Massachusetts for over 20 years, and this spring we started thinking about possible ways to downsize our stock but still generate solid income from our well-established and well-respected wholesale cut peony business. Our strategy is to maintain our premium varieties and to focus sales on our highest-end outlets, but with fewer bed areas to maintain and less labor hired to get us through the June harvest and summer maintenance.

We were wondering how to accomplish this when the Summer 2014 issue of The Cut Flower Quarterly arrived. Lo and behold, there was Paula Rice’s Regional Report for West and Northwest describing a group peony buy that she organized for a peony farmer who wanted to retire and liquidate his inventory. Then we remembered that earlier in 2014, Dave Dowling in Maryland had posted a going-out-of-business announcement with you-dig sales. 

We transformed those ideas into our own plan for a 10-day-long, dig-it-yourself sale at our farm. We posted it on the Bulletin Board, and all members who have opted to automatically get posts to their email via the listserv read about the sale right away. We also sent the announcement directly to an email list of members in the Northeast, many of whom hadn’t gotten the listserv announcement. The response was enthusiastic, and we ended up welcoming members from Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania.

We offered a 10-day period in September, covering weekends and weekdays, in order to accommodate growers’ diverse schedules and flower businesses. It turned out that at least one digging party came on each day. Some people were new to growing peonies; others were old hands. Everyone was asked to bring their own shovels, clippers, tarps, and work gloves. Prior to each day’s dig, we tagged the beds with each buyer’s order so there would be no confusion over which plants to dig and which to leave. Those who could stay for lunch enjoyed a great opportunity to trade growing and marketing information—a hallmark of the ASCFG membership’s openness and friendliness.

I like to think of peonies as phoenixes. Although a properly planted and maintained plant can live for decades or longer, a well-divided root can establish a whole new generation of plants, which can ultimately be divided again and again. It’s a happy thought to imagine our Maple Ridge peonies rising again at other growers’ farms and spreading their beauty through so many different outlets.

Alice Vigilani

Maple Ridge Peony Farm