Each spring thousands of peonies are in bloom at Gilbert H. Wild and Son in Sarcoxie, Missouri. I visited with the company's owner on a windy spring day.
Greg: Here at Gilbert H. Wild and Son we've been raising peonies on this soil since 1885. Right now we're raising over 600 varieties of peonies here on the sixty acres. Some of the first introductions of 'Carl Rosenfield' and 'Festiva Maxima', came to the US in as early as 1850. So they've been around forever. They say with peonies, "You plant a peony you plant it for life." So when you plant a peony in your garden it will grow there for 30 to 40 years and you never have to move them. It's really a carefree perennial.
Allen: What's the price range, generally, on peonies? I mean if you go all the way to the connoisseur collector corner verses bargain basement peonies what can you expect in term of price range?
Greg: They range anywhere from $5.50 all the way up to $50.00. And some of the newer introductions if you buy them from the hybridizers you'll pay $150.00 to $250.00. But we sell them all, 80 to 90 percent of our flowers are under $10.00. So it's a plant that's a minimal investment. You can plant for a lifetime, you get rich reward and great blooms and can't beat it.
Allen: Greg, are you ever asked why do you grow over 600 different varieties of peonies? That just seems like a mind-boggling number.
Greg: Well, 600 is a mind-boggling number, but as you can see every peony variety is different. Let's start off with a double, which is a true double flower.
Allen: Like 'Peppermint'?
Greg: Like 'Peppermint' and then there's another classification called semi-double. A good example of that would be 'Red Charm'. And then we have what's called the anemone type, which has the real fluffy center and the single row of petals on the outside; and then there's the true single that just have one or two rows of petals on the outside and a small stamen in the middle. So we have all four types. They come in every different size and color and shape and texture. And everybody's landscape is their own personality so that's why we offer so many.
Allen: So what's going on in the world of peonies for the future?
Greg: Well, the peony has been evolving for years. Those that were grown in the 1850's were great plants but every year there are more introduced. This is a newer introduction, introduced in the mid 1980's called 'Mandarin's Coat'. We really like this plant. It's short, it's compact, the flowers stand up well above the foliage and even on a windy day like today it just radiates in the garden.
Allen: Look at the vivid golden stamen.
Greg: It really makes them pop. 'Mandarin's Coat' is one that would not fall over in your garden. It would never need staking. It's real light and for that reason it's good for the homeowner.
Greg:This is a new variety that we hope to bring to the market place in the next three years.
Allen: What's the name of it?
Greg: You know, it's so new we haven't even named it yet.
Greg: We've been in production for about 18 years and it's rare. I've never seen this type of centering that has come through on these before.
Allen: It's so uniform and tight.
Greg: And it maintains throughout the life of the flower, as the flower gets older it's still tight and that's what we like. We like that it's compact, it stands up well in the wind, it blooms over a long period of time and it's an excellent color. We're really hot on this one. Peonies need 3 to 4 weeks of freezing weather to bloom and so if you have less than that they won't grow in your area. But if you use a single variety or a very early double variety, they will bloom in the south because their chilling requirements are less. So we recommend many of the singles for the deep south, the doubles would work anywhere in the nation except where it doesn't freeze.
Allen: So there is indeed a peony for everyone.
Greg: There is a peony for everyone.
Allen: How far do people come to see the peonies in bloom?
Greg: Last weekend we had a couple come all the way down from Aberdeen, South Dakota, which is about 700 miles. And they flew in just for the day, just to see the plants.
Allen: Now there's a couple passionate about peonies.
Greg: Yes. When you're here you can see what it is going be like in your yard; you can smell it, and the thing that's so nice is that you can do that here, you can't in a catalogue or anywhere else. So we encourage people to come by. They're always welcome.