Peony growers reap rewards
‘‘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.’’