Go Tell Aunt Rhodie

Linda Burton posting from Salem, Oregon – The Pacific Northwest is the rhododendron place. Everybody knows that. It’s the weather, the soil, the everything. Rhodies flourish in every color, size and shape; and though they bloom throughout the year, May is the crowning month. I arranged my schedule for arrival in the Pacific Northwest at Rhodie Time, and rolled into Salem eager to see the gorgeous flowering shrubs; I was not disappointed. The capitol grounds were lush with purple rhododendron and that stunning rosy pink, standing out like post-it notes against a backdrop thick with evergreens; tall firs and spruce; a Sherwood forest in the heart of town. At my hotel the purple must be ten feet tall at least; the pink is past its prime, time to deadhead soon. I pull dead blooms when I go by; can’t help myself, a habit from the past. On the counter at the restaurant, I spot some rosy pink; a rhodie catalogue, I thought. But no, it said Adelman Peony Gardens, 2012. Peonies? I took a copy to my seat and turned the page.

“Welcome to Peony Paradise,” I read. “We are Jim and Carol Adelman and we live in the farm community of Brooks, just north of Salem, Oregon. We raised our 5 children on this farm, growing crops such as peppermint, peaches, hazelnuts, and grass for seed, with our main crop for 25 years being apples. We custom harvested tree fruits, sweet cherries, pie cherries, prunes, and hazelnuts, for other farmers. We have evolved over the years and in 1993 planted our first peonies as a crop. Our goal was to give a customer experience not previously available for peony-lovers: provide big blocks of color with grass walkways, so guests could really experience the growing habits and lovely flowers of the peony. During bloom season, flowers are on display in vases in our sales area for limited mobility guests to enjoy, also cut flowers and potted peony plants are available for purchase. We ship bare-root peonies to customers across the country in the fall. We enjoy sharing God’s exquisite creation, the peony, with you.”

Now, here’s a place I have to go, I’m thinking, as I search the page for “open” hours. Aha! A Peony Volkswalk, Saturday, June 2. I mark it down.

The parking lot at Adelman’s was nearly full; people here to walk; people here to buy; people here to smell the flowers on a bright and sunny day. The fields are just beyond, 15 acres rowed in pinks and reds; the gardens are in front, the store in back. I talked to Jim, he’s in his cart, overseeing all the lively goings on. “We have the gardens so everyone can see the different kinds,” he said, pointing to the path. “We have new varieties as well as heirlooms here. Look around, take your time, enjoy.”

I walked the path, saw a couple on a bench, marking X’s in the catalogue. “How many are you buying?” I asked. “Seventy-five!” was the laughing response. It was Paul and Helen, down here from Astoria; we talked gardening for a while. I ventured in the store, peonies were rowed on shelves, named and numbered for the show; cut peonies waited in the cooler to take home by the stem; scarlet peonies clustered in a bucket to take an armload home.

The peony. It grows in rosy pink and scarlet red; in yellow, white, and salmon orange; mixed colors too, and many types: Full double, the Bomb, the Semi-double, the Japanese, the Single bloom. Single blooms have five or more broad petals surrounding a mass of pollen-bearing stamens; the Bomb (I love that name) has a mound of smaller petals in the center. The Double, you can guess, is a knock your socks off mass.

The Adelman’s grow nearly 250 varieties on their 15 acres; the most recent excitement is Itoh or intersectional peonies, produced by crossing tree peonies with bush peonies. Order from their on-line store; shipped bare root from September 15 through October 15. Will they grow where you live? Maybe. Bush peonies are suitable for USDA ZONES 2-8; tree peonies are suitable for USDA ZONES 4-8. They need a cold-winter dormant period in order to bloom and thrive. If you live south of Birmingham, Alabama or Monterey, California, don’t chance it.

The gardens are open to the public May 1 through June 15 from 9 to 6 every day. You may catch the Adelman’s when you’re there; Jim is the proficient grower and Carol oversees customer service and the office. Son Steve is the nursery manager, son David represents at the farmer’s markets, son Mike is the computer and website guru; grandkids are involved every which way. Adelman Peony Gardens has been awarded Best of Show for 6 of the last 8 years by the American Peony Society at its annual show. They’ve got blue ribbons hanging on the wall. All part of their stated way of life “We enjoy sharing God’s exquisite creation, the peony, with you.”

Go tell Aunt Rhodie, I say, the peony is spectacular. I have a new love now.

Adelman Peony Gardens, 5690 Brooklake Road NE, Salem, Oregon, 503-393-6185 http://peonyparadise.com/