Peony grow­ers reap re­wards

Central Otago Mirror - - YOUR PAPER, YOUR PLACE - JILL HER­RON

‘‘All those buy­ers want is a peony that is go­ing to bloom spec­tac­u­larly and they don't care what it costs.’’

The peony is a cu­ri­ous plant with fairly un­usual de­mands. It likes what it likes and if you don’t de­liver nei­ther will it.

A vase of over­sized peony blooms can in­stantly trans­form a room from or­di­nary to el­e­gant, and peony sea­son is much an­tic­i­pated in Cen­tral Otago by the plant’s vast fan base.

Cen­tral Otago pro­vides what Tar­ras grower John Mor­ri­son de­scribes as ‘‘the bloody best cli­mate’’ in the coun­try for pe­onies and 16 years in the ex­port busi­ness has al­lowed him and wife Mary Wood to fine-tune their grower skills.

The re­ward for the hard­work­ing cou­ple is an en­vi­able life­style and good fi­nan­cial re­turn. Pe­onies like their per­sonal space, John says, and when the win­ter comes, an undis­turbed sleep is in or­der with lots of good hard frosts.

‘‘They don’t like com­pe­ti­tion from other plants, they need all the sun­light they can get. And they have to have a cer­tain amount of cold and frost to al­low them to break dor­mancy.’’

The lat­ter is mainly why the plants thrive in Cen­tral Otago, pro­duc­ing pre­mium buds which fetch im­pres­sive prices – up­ward of $30 each in some high-end Asian and Mid­dle East­ern mar­kets.

‘‘All those buy­ers want is a peony that is go­ing to bloom spec­tac­u­larly and they don’t care what it costs.’’

The big­gest threat, John says, would be a hail storm prior to the in­tense six week har­vest. There would be no sav­ing those fat, vul­ner­a­ble buds, spread out­doors over three hectares.

The cou­ple and a neigh­bour­ing grower mar­ket their pe­onies as Thyme Hill and com­bine re­sources for the hec­tic har­vest pe­riod. There is a crew of about 11 peo­ple who pick and grade the buds for both prop­er­ties - it’s all go, dawn to dusk, seven days a week, rain or shine.

Picked stems are plunged straight into buck­ets of wa­ter and placed in a chiller at be­tween one and three degC to re­tard the pro­gres­sion to bloom.

‘‘I’m re­ally happy to tend them, I don’t re­gard it as a bur­den. I love tend­ing them as re­quired.’’

His best tip for home gar­den­ers is to re­sist the urge to pick all the buds for adorn­ing the house.

‘‘Don’t ever pick off all the stems in any one year…as tempt­ing as that may be.’’

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