As flowers go, peonies are not particularly persnickety. Relatively hardy perennials, “peonies thrive on benign neglect,” says the Old Farmer’s Almanac, noting their take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward fertilizer, mulch and attention in general.
In addition to being low maintenance, they offer stunning blooms each spring and lush foliage through the summer and fall, and many varieties have a lovely fragrance. Plus, they are persistent — some types can live and flower for many decades. What’s not to like?
This month, Wildcat Ridge Farm in Haywood County, one of the largest peony farms in North Carolina, opens its gardens to the public for its annual Festival of Peonies in Bloom. The four-week event offers an opportunity to see many varieties of the plant in full bloom — and to take some home as well.
Owners Suzanne and Ricardo Fernandez grow the herbaceous and intersectional Itoh types of peony. Both are perennials, but the intersectional is a hybrid combination of woody-stemmed tree peonies and herbaceous peonies. “We have been growing peonies for years, adding more beds and more varieties from around the world every year,” says Ricardo.
Visitors can buy cut peonies during the festival on a BYOB (bring your own bucket or basket) basis — “You pick, I cut,” says Ricardo — for $3-$4 per stem. Whole plants are also for sale with prices varying depending on type and variety. Customers normally select and buy the varieties they want at the sale, then pick them up or have them delivered in the fall when they can be divided, potted and replanted, Ricardo notes.
But the festival is more than just a flower-shopping event. Artists are invited to bring their easels for en plein air painting, and picnicking is encouraged — picnic tables will be set up along the farm’s riverbank for those who wish to bring some food and dine al fresco. Dogs are even allowed to join the fun, as long as they’re on a leash. And for an overnight peony adventure, Ricardo adds, Wildcat Ridge Farm offers accommodations in a luxury yurt near the garden overlooking the Pigeon River.
WHAT: Festival of Peonies in Bloom
WHERE: Wildcat Ridge Farm, 3553 Panther Creek Road, Clyde. wildcatridgefarm.com
WHEN: Saturday, May 4, through Friday, May 31, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission is free.