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World Class Peony Growers
If you love peonies, check out Swenson Gardens in Howard Lake, Minn. These world class growers specialize in the “old fashioned” fragrant blooms with eye-catching new colors like yellow, coral, lavender and fire engine red along with the traditional red, pink and white blooms.
  “We market 125 different varieties each year, and it changes. These aren’t your grandma’s peonies,” says Keith Swenson of the more than 15,000 plants at the business he and his wife, Becky, started in 2002. Besides coming in an array of colors and bloom shapes, the new hybrid varieties stand tall and strong, without staking. When they aren’t blooming, many varieties with shrub-like bushes add landscaping beauty.
  The Swenson family grows peonies the old-fashioned way in rich, chemical-free soil. And, instead of selling less developed tissue cultured plants, they sell bare rootstock from divided mature plants.
  “This means you get a more developed plant and impressive results in your garden faster,” Swenson notes. Growing the plants in Zone 4 offers a big advantage as the plants survive to 40 degrees below zero, but they’re suitable for Zones 2 to 8, anywhere that winter is cold enough for the plants to go dormant.
  The Swensons hold open houses a couple of weekends in early June when the peonies bloom so customers can see them before ordering them for fall shipment. (Photos of the varieties are also on the website).
  “We have blooms for seven weeks,” Swenson says. “We encourage gardeners to plant different varieties with different bloom times.”
  He emphasizes the importance of properly preparing the soil with composted manure, bone meal, Milorganite and other amendments to create a well-drained, fertilized site in a location that gets at least 8 hrs. of sun a day.
  “If you do, you never have to fertilize again,” Swenson says, and like grandma’s peonies they will bloom for decades. “The less attention you pay to them the better they grow. Peonies are also drought and deer-resistant, and very disease-free as long as the site is not wet all the time.”
  The Swensons sell four classifications of peonies: Garden varieties, Distinctive peonies, Intersectional peonies (tree and herbaceous peony cross), and Collector peonies that range from $20 to $250.
  He credits his mentor Roger Anderson, of Ft. Atkinson, Wis., who spent years developing peony varieties.
  “Roger retired, and we are trying to carry on his hybrids. It’s imperative for me to pass them on to our children,” Swenson says.
  The Swensons’ children have already started sideline businesses. Britta sells new blooms as cut flowers, and Luke cares for honeybees.
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Swenson Gardens, P.O. Box 209, Howard Lake, Minn. 55349 (ph 763 350-2051; www.swensongardens.com).

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2013 - Volume #37, Issue #2