Notes from a Flower Farm: Peonies and Garden Roses
In our latest column from Marigold and Mint, she takes us to the peony farms of Washington State, highlighting these majestic blooms and pairs the flowers with garden roses for arrangements and bouquets that are the delight of every summer bride.
I think I became a landscape architect—and now a farmer and florist—because my Dad grew peonies. He grew lots of other things in our yard, including apples trees, a pumpkin patch between our house and the golf course behind us, and raspberries on trellises, (none of which was appreciated by the stuffy neighborhood design committee). But what got my little girl heart beating were the big fluffy larger-than-life blooms of a flower that grows so easily here in the Pacific Northwest. Their scent practically follows you down the streets, so full are front yards here with peonies in June.
Now, in early July, you can often still get peonies in the continental United States. You might have to baby some buds from your own garden in the refrigerator, bringing them out to bloom during the hot days of July, or if you're a bride who absolutely must have peonies, you can have them shipped from Alaska and other colder climates where they bloom later in the season.
Marigold and Mint is an organic farm, a retail shop, and a studio. The farm is situated along the Snoqualmie River, about 30 miles east of Seattle and the shop is located in the Melrose Market on Capitol Hill in Seattle, Washington. Founded in 2008 by owner Katherine Anderson, Marigold and Mint reflects her lifetime love of flowers and landscapes. Trained as a landscape architect, she brings her affection for both clean and clear design and intricate patterns to Marigold and Mint.
We also made a peony lei and a garland of peonies and spray rose branches, and hung the garland from an apple tree for the ceremony.
The scent and blowsiness of old roses and peonies can be so-over-the-top and romantic that sometimes I like to put them in more modern vases, to steady the swoon factor of the flowers. Here, I have them in an Adam Silverman rice ash vase.
When I arrange with peonies and garden roses, I often use their color as a starting point. Here, I am playing off the deep maroon peony with blue thistle.
I want to tell and show you everything about peonies and garden roses, writing about the breeding, the many varieties, how to cut, and how to grow them. And just as it’s hard to write just a bit about these lush flowers, it’s hard to grow just a few. In fact, if you love them, you can never get enough. I order armloads of garden roses from Peterkort in Oregon, and the other day, I drove two hours north to Lummi Island to visit with Elisabeth Marshall and her spectacular Full Bloom Farm, bursting with more than 200 varieties of peonies.
On the way up I stopped for the first local Shuksan strawberries of the season at a roadside stand, and then boarded the ferry for a short ride. With saltwater and strawberries flooding my senses, I drove to Elisabeth’s and saw amazing blooms, like ‘Gardenia,’ (pictured here), a silky white peony with a yellow center.
Related: A recipe for strawberry scones.
Elisabeth Marshall has been growing peonies for decades and as we walked her fields even she, after all these years, was moved by the breathtaking loveliness of various varieties. Some of her favorites include the ‘Gardenia,’ shown previously, along with the semi-double ‘Lovely Rose’ and the glowing blush pink ‘Promenade.’
She sells root divisions—wise gardeners place orders starting in March—and ships in the fall; she also sells cuts at the Bellingham Farmers Market. Elisabeth and her husband live at the farm and also have a cottage there for rent so you can sneak a look at her flowers, and then head to the Willows Inn for dinner (a restaurant getting much attention of late, thanks to it’s new chef from Noma in Copenhagen).
For the shop and for wedding work, I’ve been buying crates full of peonies from North Field Farm, which belongs to Geraldine Kildow. She reminds me of my great Aunt June when she was younger, and has introduced me to varieties I’d never known before.
My Dad had a bed of garden roses too, just as his mother did. There were fewer of them than there were peonies at our house and they seemed like jewels in the garden, protected by their thorns. And like peonies, roses thrive in Seattle’s climate, so naturally, I planted both on my farm. Roses and peonies require patience for the cut flower lover, (you shouldn’t cut your peonies until they are at least three years old) and the roses especially don’t appreciate our annual floods, but for me, nothing is as show stopping in the field or in the shop as these ruffled blooms.
Like my father I grow both on my farm and in my backyard, with the balance tipped toward peonies. When my father moved out, he dug up his peonies. I was heartbroken to have him go, and the peonies too. But I suppose I would have done the same thing.
Here, buds of unfurled garden roses are grouped together in a bouquet.
Peonies are hard to get this time of year in most of the United States, but if are able to find some in February, our slide show about how to arrange peonies and garden roses is great for inspiration.