Sunday, July 19, 2009

Tony and Neva Mistretta, Stewards of the American Peony

Recently, I reminded myself and, in turn, the readership that it is getting to be time to consider which peonies to order this year. Peonies will ship to you for planting in early fall. Now is the time to learn all you can. One commenter to this blog pointed me in the direction of the Bannister Garden Center and their internet store, Tony and Neva Mistretta, of in Kansas City. Missori, have been generous enough to agree to a brief interview for Blushing readers. The peony catalog on their site is download-able, with color photos for those of you who, like me, are careful planners of the timing of blooms, their size, color and location in the beds.

Q:How long ago did you begin your business and how did you get your start?
A:Tony and I started our business 40 years ago at this same location on Bannister & Raytown Road in Kansas City, Missouri. when we first started, we were solely a fruit market, as is the case with many garden centers. As the years went on, we started selling potted plants at holidays and soon moved into the garden center business. We had help from other growers, went to classes, and mostly learned from trial and error. Soon, we transformed into a full line garden center. About 20 or so years ago we got into the peony business. We purchased fields of peonies and a 7 acre farm where we now have production of about 20,000 plants

Q:How many varieties of peonies do you stock?
A: We have over 200 varieties and about 150 in production.

Q:What is the rarest of your selection and how did it come to be so prized?
A:We can't say which is the rarest, as we have many hybrids, including Garden Treasure, a yellow herbaceous peony.

Garden Treasure

Q: How long can one expect a peony to last?
A: Peony plants can last 100 years. The ones we started out with were about 25 years old. They truly are our grandmother's plants.

Q: When is the best time to order and plant peonies? How long will it take
for blooms?

A: We sell potted peonies in the spring; however, the best time to plant is in the fall. At that time, we sell bare root peonies. We pride ourselves in the fact that our roots are very large; large enough to be planted in 2-gallon pot. The roots are sold as 3-5 eye , but usually are much larger than that. We have repeat customers in the city and all over the country who marvel at the size of the roots. Therefore, our peonies can bloom the first year. We have about an 80% rate of first year blooming cycles. If not, then they definitely will bloom the second year

Q: Do you have a couple of quick tips which are must-do's for caring for peonies
and ensuring blooms?

A: Peonies need full sun, at least half the day. They do not like to planted too deep; we suggest 1-2 inches of soil over the top of the root. You would be surprised how many people plant them upside down; therefore, when we ship, we send a planting guide with a picture. Peonies need well-drained soil. We suggest fertilizing with a high nitrogen fertilizer after they are done blooming and an alfalfa based fertilizer or time release fertilizer in the fall after the foliage has been cut down. Never use the foliage in compost as it may carry fungus. Peonies do not like wet feet, so it is not necessary to constantly water. We suggest watering only in times of no rain in July and August. You can see how simple peonies are to take care of, and how , even though they bloom once in the spring, they are a great addition to the garden. Gardeners can, after the first or second year, cut blooms for vases. To have peonies later, cut blooms at the opening bud stage and put in the refrigerator. When you want more peonies, take them out, make a new cut, and you will have peonies even into June.

Q: What is the most unusual order/ request made of your business?
A: The most unusual order for peonies is for the Fernleaf Double.

Fernleaf Double

Q: Can you recommend the best book on the subject of peonies?
A:Tony likes to recommend the book "Peonies" by Alan Rogers

Q: Any interesting anecdotes, historically relevant facts, or tidbits of peony
trivia you would like to share with my readers?

A: Peonies have been in ornamental horticulture for several thousand years in China. They were introduced to Europe and the Americas where they were then intensely hybridized.

We love peonies, and have 65 in our own landscaping at our home. Even though we see the varieties every year, and add some new ones, we never tire of their beauty. At our garden center, we have a yearly Peony Festival where we display cut flowers in vases for our customers to see. It is quite the event. We grow our peonies on our farm, 1/4 mile from our garden center and allow folks to tour the fields. NO PICKING! Families take pictures from year to year, and can visit daily if they like to see the new varieties opening. We have residential and commercial customers as well.


Pink Peony said...

My favs. I miss having them in my yard. Thanks for sharing.

The Quintessential Magpie said...

I don't know how you found my blog, either, but I'm glad you did because I found yours! And William Yeoward is FABULOUS crystal. I ogle it at a nearby store when I go there to ogle other shiny objects! :-)

And peonies... oh, my! The cadillac of flowers. Love them, particularly if they are pink!

Thanks for dropping by as I loved visiting you here...


Sheila :-)

Cindy said...

I MUST have those peonies!
Fernleaf Double! My heart!

Amanda @ Serenity Now said...

Great Q & A. I love peonies!! Thanks for the visit. Yes, my blog keeps me on the brink of sanity. I haven't teetered over the edge yet. ;)

Anonymous said...

Talk about coincidence... I was googline Garden Treasure and found your blog post. I was just at the Garden Center last Sunday!