Prize winning peonies picked by young HL growers

July 7, 2008

By Jennifer Gallus
Staff Writer

“My favorite part of peony growing is cutting stems and giving them to people,” said Luke Swenson, 10, of Howard Lake, which is a sentiment echoed by his sister Britta, 12.

Britta and Luke are the children of Keith and Becky Swenson, owners os Swenson Gardens, who are commercial, yet organic, peony growers now based out of Howard Lake.

The Swenson children combed the family’s peony fields for just the right stems to enter in the American Peony Society’s National Exhibition June 7 in Bloomington.

“With the cool spring, there weren’t as many blooms open so their selection was limited,” Becky said.

The Swensons entered their blooms in an open class against commercial growers from across the country, many of which came from warmer climates, thus having many more blooms to choose from.

“Those commercial growers bring in truckloads of blooms to choose from, where we just had what was in our fields,” Becky explained.

Picking just the right blooms is quite a science. The kids needed to choose the perfect stems that would open after 10 a.m. the day after they cut, which is when the judging was to begin.

Britta and Luke took first in their class, and then in a grouping that took into account about a dozen first place winners, the same blooms won the Court of Honor.

The Swenson children said that they really enjoy the peony growing business. They are involved in just about every aspect of Swenson Gardens.

Becky explained that it’s a year-round job. The kids help with shipping the plants, packing them, sending them off to trade shows, as well as the dirty work such as weeding and harvesting.

When the Swensons harvest roots, those roots are shipped across the country. The children help assemble the orders, dig up the plants, cut the foliage, wash the roots, tag them, and then pack the orders.

“We’re organic so (for weed control) it’s just a hoe, tractor, rototiller, and hands and knees,” Becky laughed.

Britta and Luke said they will be eager to enter more blooms at the next national exhibition, and in the meantime, will continue to enjoy sharing beautiful blooms with friends.

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