Debra Prinzing

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SLOW FLOWERS Podcast: Peonies from America’s Last Frontier (Episode 102)

August 7th, 2013

I'm standing in a Homer, Alaska, peony field at Scenic Place Peonies. It's owned by Beth Van Sandt and Kurt Weichhand - check out the views!!!

I’m standing in a Homer, Alaska, peony field at Scenic Place Peonies. It’s owned by Beth Van Sandt and Kurt Weichhand – check out the views!!!

Last summer I visited Alaska and toured about 12 cut peony farms from Fairbanks to Homer – in one week! It was a wonderful trip, made all the more special because of the many cool, welcoming flower farmers I met along the way. They hosted me for meals, spent quality time walking and talking with me along the rows of robust and beautiful plants, lent me a bed for the night, and generally adopted me into their Alaska Peony Tribe! If you want to learn more about the Peony Growers of Alaska and how to order cut flowers from some of them directly, visit the Alaska Peony Growers’ web site.

It was a thoroughly freeing time for me as a journalist because I was my own client. No editor gave me the assignment. No publication had their dibs on how the story would be reported. I used my Alaska Airlines’ frequent flier miles to book my flight into Anchorage and then rented a car with another set of airline miles.

I made reservations to tour Denali National Park on the first day – mainly because Dr. Pat Holloway, my trip advisor, insisted that I couldn’t just drive past the majestic national park while seeking peony farms! After that first day, I spent the following seven preoccupied with peonies, their cultivation, harvest, post-harvest care and ultimate journey to the hands of satisfied customers. It was pretty sweet – and I can’t wait to get back. I wrote a fun post about the week in Alaska here.

Alaska august 2013 coverOther than selling a *tiny* story about Alaska peonies to Sunset magazine, I am happy to announce that my first big editorial placement appears in the current issue of Alaska Airlines magazine. How fitting! You can read the feature here [PDF].

This week’s podcast features interviews with the owners of two farms I visited during my tour. First, you’ll hear my conversation with Rita Jo Shoultz of Alaska Perfect Peony in Fritz Creek on the Kenai Peninsula, one of the first growers to jump in feet first to plant peony roots. You will hear the sounds of nature around us, as we sat in her garden near the pond to talk. For some crazy reason, Nicco, her cat, was fascinated with the audio recorder’s microphone. You’ll hear a few bumps in the audio, thanks to the curious cat!

Here are some photos from Alaska Perfect Peonies:


Rita Jo with red peony

Rita Jo with a double-headed peony that we discovered in her growing fields. 


Rita Harvesting

Rita Jo harvested a luscious bouquet to show off the diversity of bloom colors.


Alaska Perfect Peonies

The farm’s brand has mountains and peonies to convey a sense of place.


Growing fields

A beautiful shot featuring one of the fields at Alaska Perfect Peonies.

The second portion of this podcast features Kathy and Craige Baker of Gray Owl Farm in Palmer, fifty miles north of Anchorage in the scenic Matanuska Valley. They were named Alaska’s FARM FAMILY OF THE YEAR in 2011! You may hear a fourth voice in the podcast, which is my college friend (and lifelong Anchorage resident) Stephanie Taylor. She spent one day with me during my tour and we had lots to catch up on. It was so fun to have her with me. Here are photographs of the beautiful gardens at Gray Owl Farm – please enjoy them below. 


Kathy & Craige Baker of Gray Owl Farm, peony farmers and nursery owners. 



I told you the delphiniums here grow super tall – and so beautiful!


Stephanie and Debra with Delphiniums

Here I am at Gray Owl Farm with my friend Stephanie Taylor. Look how tiny we appear in front of the towering delphiniums!



Then there are the Meconopsis – the Himalayan blue poppy. Shockingly blue!



One of the coral peonies, which looks pretty dazzling against Kathy and Craige’s lime green hosta leaves


Sarah Bernhardt

Sarah Bernhardt, the queen of pink peonies

More photos. Captions are not needed!


GrayOwl_Bakers14 GrayOwl_Bakers13 GrayOwl_Bakers12 GrayOwl_Bakers11 GrayOwl_Bakers10 GrayOwl_Bakers9 GrayOwl_Bakers8 GrayOwl_Bakers7 GrayOwl_Bakers6 GrayOwl_Bakers4 GrayOwl_Bakers3 GrayOwl_Bakers2 GrayOwl_Bakers1

If you go: Where to see peonies in Alaska 

Alaska Botanical Garden

4601 Campbell Airstrip Rd.

Anchorage, AK 99507

(907) 770-3692

Open year-round during daylight hours

Admission: $7 (adults); $5 (children 3-18); free (children under 3)

See the Gold Medal collection of the American Peony Society’s top-rated peonies and rare species peonies, including Paeonia anomala.


Georgeson Botanic Garden

University of Alaska at Fairbanks

117 West Tanana Drive

Fairbanks, AK 99776


Open 9 a.m.-8 p.m. daily, May through September

Admission: $5

View an extensive collection of peonies on display as part of the cut flower trials led by Dr. Pat Holloway.


Homer Farmers Market

Ocean Drive and Sterling Hwy.

Homer, Alaska

10 a.m.-3 p.m., Saturdays (Memorial Day to October)

3-6 p.m., Wednesdays (July to October)

Visit “The Barn,” a collective of four Kenai Peninsula growers for cut peonies, bouquets, peony roots, vegetables and other local food and artwork.


Tanana Valley Farmers Market (Fairbanks)

2600 College Rd. (at Caribou Way)

Fairbanks, Alaska

The market is open through Sept. 22 at the following times

11 a.m.-4 p.m., Wednesdays

9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays

11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sundays

Marji and Ron Illingworth of North Pole Peonies ( sell beautiful, just-picked peonies in their market stall every Saturday; you may find other flower vendors as well.


3 Responses to “SLOW FLOWERS Podcast: Peonies from America’s Last Frontier (Episode 102)”

  1. Jean Starr Says:

    Fascinating! Another reason to visit Alaska!

  2. Debra Prinzing » Post » Episode 244: Meet Mike A. Mellano, 3rd generation American flower farmer & ranunculus expert Says:

    […] Click here to learn more about Alaska peonies and listen to Episode 102. […]

  3. Debra Prinzing » Post » Episode 282: Got Peonies? News from the Alaska Peony Growers Association Conference Says:

    […] Episode 102 from August 2013, Peonies from America’s Last Frontier (Episode 102) […]

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