Stop and Smell the Flowers
Commercial peony farms sound like a dream come true, imagining rows and rows of peony plants blooming in the full range of colors. When in reality every flower that blooms in the field is an unsold flower, and could also lead to potential disease and more work down the line. Knowing this, it is easy to lose sight of the big picture and forget to stop and enjoy why we started a flower farm in the first place.
A lesson often learned late in the game is that every commercial farm should have an area designed to serve as a reminder to stop and smell the flowers. An area that is allowed to bloom unrestricted, trial different cultivars, and showcase varieties that are sentimental or unique. A special place that stops passersby in their tracks to take in the beauty and savor the moment.
Joshua and Gosia Scholten from Holland have grown to become dear friends of the Alaskan peony industry and know of this missing piece all too well. In 2017 they offered to send 60 different varieties of peonies to see how well they would grow in the Alaskan conditions. As a result of this trial, new varieties were found that are prolific and hardy enough for the cut flower market. And the permanent home of this trial plot turned into a presentation area that filled the void desperately needed amongst the commercial fields.
The spark of energy and sheer joy people experience while walking through the presentation area isn’t just a regular stroll through the flowers. It is a necessity to the well-being and mental health of farm owners and employees. Farm work is dirty, repetitive, physically draining, often in difficult weather conditions, and harvest time usually involves 16 hour work days. Alaskan summers have endless daylight and everything grows so quickly, which causes fieldwork to compress into an overlapping schedule. All of that seems to fade away with a simple act of pausing to take in the beauty of the flowers. It’s such a positive and uplifting feeling every time you look up to see a new bloom or color pop open from across the field. It’s also fascinating to see all the different ways a peony can bloom. Some have single rows of petals that dance so delicately in the breeze, others are as huge as a dinner plate filled with countless layers of ruffles.
Remembering to pause and reset also allows tired minds to notice all of the wildlife that visits the fields. Not just the wonderful bees, but hummingbird moths also love peonies. Wood frogs like to hide under the plants, which attracts sandhill cranes that nest in nearby meadows, and eagles often scout the area. There are foxes, lynx, rabbits and of course moose that are occasionally seen. Luckily, none of these critters want to eat peony plants, and generally leave the people alone too.
Stopping to smell the flowers really does improve any situation, not just that of a tired flower farmer, but any hurried person. Sounds silly but it truly does work. Smelling a flower releases oxytocin in the body that triggers a sense of love and happiness. Enjoying flowers can chase away anxiety and allow people to feel less depression or agitation. No matter what you do in life or where you are, flowers can always brighten your day. Plant an area that you can recharge your soul. In the winter months pick up a few stems from your local florist, and don’t ever forget to stop and smell the flowers.
-Written by the members of the Alaska Peony Cooperative