I have this dream where I have so many peonies that I sell them from a huge pile out of the back of my pickup truck. The sheer massiveness of it would be so “in your face” awesome, you’d just have to buy some. That would be really cool.
Since I began flower farming, I have diligently purchased peony roots every year to increase my supply and let me tell you—it takes forever! Especially when you do it a little at a time. So far I have about one-third of an acre planted with the first ones finally cashing in. I love, love, love them. Life is so easy and beautiful when peonies are around.
I’ve put a lot of thought into a perfectly planned peony field and I am picky about what varieties will go into it and where. That’s what I’m going to share with you in hopes that you too can someday sell peonies from the back of your truck.
I have drawn out my phantom peony field and organized it according to color and bloom time so that we would naturally harvest from one section to the next. This field would be divided into an early-season section, a mid-season section, a late-season section, and a very-late-season section. Each section is further divided by color. So you have the reds, pinks, whites, corals, and miscellaneous colors all planted into the same groups/rows. And naturally you have them planted according to variety. (Or no, if you are buying a little each year and adding on, but at least it is in the correct bloom-time and color section of your field.)
I have been particular about choosing varieties that have a long vase life. Did you know that some peonies can have a vase life of up to 9.5 days? If you want to “wow” your customers, stick to varieties that will astound them with long vase life. While long vase life isn’t the only determiner, it ranks seriously high for me and I try really hard to stay with peonies that have this characteristic. I do have lots of ‘Sarah Bernhardt’, with a recorded vase life of 5.6 days which isn’t as high, but because her stem count is so awesome, my brain could not stop doing the math ($ x stem count = profitable). Other determiners might be you simply need to have something early for your market or you don’t care about long vase life, just having variety for your wedding customers. The point is to choose the characteristics you want and organize the field in a way that is progressive and makes sense for you.
Unfortunately there isn’t a whole lot out there on the vase life of peonies; usually the best we can get is that it is recommended as a “good cut”. A really great list and resource that I have followed pretty closely is the one done in 1995 by Kansas State University extension specialist Karen L.B. Gast. This list is in Lynn Byczynski’s book The Flower Farmer. If you can connect with an experienced peony grower, they can help you determine which varieties will be best for you based on your needs and expectations.
This spring I was able to organize a group-buy within my Region for an ASCFG peony farmer who decided it was time to retire and wanted to liquidate his field inventory. This farmer was willing to sell entire root balls for a great price if we were willing to come and get them all on the same day and share the expense of the backhoe. Basically, he took individual orders within my group so that he knows how many total of each variety needs to be dug. On “dig day” (this fall) we will all arrive, be handed our orders (pick tickets), go to each pile, pull our number of root balls per that variety, and then choose to stay and divide our roots (with some supervision from the owner) or just leave and do it at home. I know these babies can be large and difficult to handle, but I’m up to the task. I have been dreaming of an acre peony field since the beginning of my flower farming career and this is going to put a serious dent in it.
Next winter, plan to draw out and organize your Phantom Peony Field and next spring you’ll be ready to make an order for fall of 2015. Heck, you may even be able to start this fall. If you search for “peony” on the ASCFG Bulletin Board you’ll come up with oodles of suppliers. I’m looking forward to my fall peony digging and planting. I can’t wait to meet everyone, learn the ins and outs of “hands-on” dividing peonies and ultimately, turn a dream into reality.