This past week, a few of us from the Verdant, myself (Kelsey) and Grace, had the privilege of visiting the property where Julie, of Julie Pal Peonies, cares for and grows over a thousand peony plants. Grace and I were welcomed to the property with open arms by Julie and her family. We met her parents Kenny and Traci, husband Aroop, and all four kids Ava, Leah, Maya, and James. Immediately their warmth and hospitality was felt.
Before diving into a home cooked meal, we began a quick tour of the back side of the property. Julie introduced us to the many ducks her parents have on the farm, which brought many giggles as we watched them quack about. As we were taking in our surroundings, Julie’s mom called out from the kitchen window informing us that lunch was ready!
Our time around the table was fun and full of curiosity as we learned more about each other. Kenny, Julie’s dad, shared with us that the asparagus in our meal was grown right on the farm by him! It was the most delicious asparagus both Grace and I had ever had. You could taste the time and care that was put into growing it. Fun Fact: You have to wait three seasons before being able to harvest the asparagus!
After lunch, we all, and I mean ALL, hopped onto the golf cart and zipped off to tour the entire property. We learned about old maps Julie’s kids created when they were younger, noting that at some point on our tour of the property we’d be stopping at Long Island! It was so heartwarming to hear all about the beautiful memories this family has created as we rode around.
After touring the majority of the property, we finally landed at the spot where Julie spends most of her time, the peony field. It took our breath away. There were rows and rows of peony bushes full of buds about to burst open!
We’re honored to share just a glimpse into Julie’s beautiful story and love of peonies with all of you. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do.
When did your interest and appreciation for nature begin?
I grew up in rural KS, my Grandparents and Dad were farmers, always. I spent many summers taking meals out to my uncles in the wheat fields where I watched in amazement at the wheat rolling out of the combines and into the grain trucks. I also spent a lot of time with my siblings and parents tending a massive garden where my Mother would boast “We grew and made every single thing we are eating for dinner tonight”, and that sort of thing. I had so much pride and respect for the land, what it gives us, and how we really rely on the earth for everything.
How did you start growing and where are you now with your farm?
I started growing peonies when I was a young mom. We had moved back to Kansas and I planted a garden immediately. I also planted 3 peonies next to my porch. These were given to me from my mother and grandmother. They grew at my childhood home and my grandparents' home. That was back in 2005, and how it all started. I didn’t expand on peonies with rows of them until 2015 when I decided to purchase 200 plants and put them in the ground. I drug my feet because we didn’t have land of our own, and the farm is 2 1/2 hours away. I now have about 1000 plants. They are all in different stages of maturity, and I’ve grown really slowly over the last 8 years, just adding somewhere between 100-200 plants each year.
While we were at Julie’s parent’s property, she explained to us how at one point she and her husband purchased some land closer to home for her to start farming. This would allow for much less travel time come May. While logistically it made more sense, she quickly realized that so much of her “why” was lost. Her phone calls with her parents were less frequent, and visits too. Ultimately she decided the travel time was worth it because without that connection with her parents, it didn’t have the same depth to her. It was touching to hear how she listened to her gut and pivoted back to the heart of things that brought her to loving peony farming in the first place.
What is your favorite variety of peony? Why?
It’s the color, the massive flower, the smell, and it’s the big finale of the season, the last to bloom. It feels like nature is just saving the best for last. Everyone I’ve met has some sort of sensory experience and memory when they encounter this flower. It’s impossible not to. The massive pale pink bloom, the incredible scent, the memories and nostalgia they bring-it reminds you of someone or someplace.
What are some of the challenges of the work you do?
The weather and physical labor are always the biggest challenges. May is so busy and it’s also when all of the peonies are ready to be harvested. It’s time and labor intensive. Fall is just as labor intensive with winter prep, cutting down foliage and dividing plants. Weather has actually been the bigger challenge over the past couple of years. I can see the effects of climate change . . . the big swings in temperature, the really late freezes that have damaged my coral charm two years in a row now, it’s scary how volatile the weather has been over the last few years, and to see how damaging it is.
Why do you believe people should buy local flowers?
I believe Local is what makes the world go round. At the core, communities survive by all of us supporting each other. Purchasing local flowers supports the grower and designer but it also is about the most fresh flower you could get. Buying local means you’re buying in season, buying flowers that haven’t traveled the world and will perform well with a long vase life.
What is the most rewarding part of the work you do?
The most rewarding part is the joy these flowers bring to others. Sometimes, while I’m sweating in the field and beyond dirty with sweat and grime I think about where these flowers will end up. Who is it for? What special moment? And how they make someone else feel. That brings tremendous satisfaction.
What do you believe to be true about flowers?
I believe we need them. At our core. I believe they bring wonder, beauty, and connection with a greater being. They’re transient and they help us stop for a moment to appreciate something that is just here for a moment. I think those fleeting moments are so important.
What is home to you and how do flowers play a role in that if at all?
Home is spending my time with my family. I'm lucky enough that the peony farm is at the farm where my parents live full time. It’s a gift to spend an extended amount of time with them when I otherwise wouldn’t have made the time. Kansas, with its wide open vistas, feels like home, and despite the wind and harsh fluctuating weather, it is home and comforting to me.
Our time with Julie and her family was meaningful and impactful. At the end of our visit she looked at both Grace and I and said, “I’m so glad to have gained you both as new friends!” WE are so glad. Julie is a beautiful soul whose warmth and heart can be felt through the meaningful work she does as a peony farmer. Stop by the shop everyday 10-7, and explore some of Julie’s gorgeous peonies grown with such care and thoughtfulness!
Consider following along with her on Instagram, @juliepalpeonies.