Greeting Gardeners! 2022 was an extremely busy year which saw many changes to the way we will do business in future years. While it was our most successful year to date, change is always uncomfortable, yet rewarding.
As many of our current customers are aware, Solaris Farms is a relatively small venture which concentrates on unique plant material of high quality. Our catalogs provide the viewer with only a partial breadth of all the plants we grow and might cause those not familiar with our business to believe we have a huge operation. In reality we grow a very limited number of each plant found in our offerings and typically many of our plants become unavailable early in the year due to depletion of stock. This model allows us to satisfy the diverse interests of our customers and also keeps us from becoming bored growing hundreds of the same thing. Additionally, the farm serves as a hybridizing operation and trial garden which is always looking to the future, yet retaining high quality older cultivars which we believe are important for gardeners to experience. We also perform all of our own propagation, which allows us to offer some of the highest quality material available anywhere.
Jordan and I enjoy plant propagation immensely and the satisfaction derived from growing seeds to grafting to dividing is gratifying. I’ve been fortunate to be able to hire Jordan as an operations manager, who has brought on many new ways of looking at things. His work here at the farm has freed me to do more grafting, hybridizing and generally bring more enjoyment of the plant riches we have at the farm. I’m already looking forward to spring and all of the activities which will begin in the new growing season.
Climate change has certainly reared its head across much of the United States and the world. Wisconsin has escaped much of the damage other regions have endured, but we’ve seen our fair share of variable weather conditions which are not within the norm. In 2019 we had historic record rainfall and the past three years have had numerous record rainfall events. Last summer was not a wet one or dry one, but we did experience a heat wave accompanied by high winds and record UV levels in early-mid June. This event occurred just as the lactiflora peonies were coming into bloom and the conditions destroyed many flowers and damaged the soft lush spring peony foliage. Basically the peony fields appeared to be going dormant as early as July 1 and fungal diseases ran rampant through the comprised foliage. Upon fall digging of peonies we were pleasantly surprised by the excellent roots and the overall health of the plants – testament to the peony’s resilience! Daylilies shrugged of the conditions with little or no damage and put on the best show of blooms we’ve ever seen. Plants produced numerous rebloom scapes and the gardens were ablaze with color all the way to mid September – even a few blooms were still going at the end of October! Wow, daylilies are tough and beautiful! Lilies, especially the Martagons were outstanding as well. The mid June hot spell caused earlier than normal bloom, but plants were absolutely loaded with flowers. Later the orienpets bloomed with their “high” fragrance and were nothing short of spectacular. A good year all and all for most plants in our gardens.
A number of things have evolved in the last few years and the following is a summary of what I believe is important.
- Visiting the farm. After problems finding suitable summer help and associated costs for onsite sales, we’ve elected to move away from appointments and walk-on business. Instead the farm will be open for a series of Open Houses. Jordan, Ella and I will take orders during Open Houses for mail delivery or later pickup, but will no longer dig orders the same day. Digging the same day as we did in prior years was popular with onsite customers, but was extremely taxing for our small labor pool – plus I’m beginning to feel my age! We will continue to supply an outstanding plant product whether it is shipped or picked up at a schedule time/day.
- Disease monitoring. Our farm has always been extremely “clean” in regards to disease – our state USDA Agricultural Inspector will concur. We walk our fields hundreds of times each season looking for any problems in our plant stock and take extra care to remove any diseased plants before they reach the consumer or are allowed to spread to other plants in our collection. However, we (including USDA inspectors) are beginning to see a large numbers of diseased plants in other nursery businesses’ offerings. Many of the diseases arise from inexpensive imports coming from discount wholesalers in the Netherlands and China, and less so domestic sources. Most of these diseases are viral in nature and can almost certainly be traced to poor sanitation during the propagation process and the desire to take advantage of unknowing consumers. That said, there is value in paying a bit more for quality plant material and not having to worry about disease. We believe our keen eye for disease coupled with clean propagation practices not only protects our customers, but our business and the plant world at large. Ultimately, distribution of diseased plant material impacts all gardeners since plants travel and many diseases are communicable.
- An increase in the number of woody and herbaceous peonies. Much of our farm’s expansion has included herbaceous and woody (tree) peonies. We believe these plants to be some of the most underutilized garden and landscape subjects in American gardens. The shear variety of shapes, forms, sizes and flower colors will astound even the most seasoned gardener. Plus these plants if given minimal care will outlive all of us, so why not concentrate on selling such a superior plant! We love them in almost every season and think everyone should feel the same.
You’ll notice most of our offerings do not include “seedlings” or unregistered plants. Yes, we have some woody peony selections from other hybridizers which are commercially important and believe are unique enough and of high enough quality to warrant their offering. However, most seedlings should not be offered for sale, as they are not of the quality required for distribution. We know that much financial gain could be experienced by offering seedlings, but these plants are not likely to be enduring subjects and much disappointment often surrounds them as they are grown in gardens. Thus it is our belief that only registered plants from our hybridizing programs should be offered. Additionally registered plants have information recorded in their registries which can be used by gardeners to gain further information in the future; Example: The Peony Registry. Seedlings and unregistered plants tend to become forgotten and there will be no enduring information on them for future use.
- Continued efforts to improve plant products sent to customers. No one can honestly boast producing the finest quality plant material. However, after receiving numerous plant orders from other growers over the past 10 years we can positively say what we send customers is top notch and out performs most other quality grower’s plant products. Conscious efforts are made to provide vigorous, healthy and proportionally divided plant material which will grow well in our customer’s gardens. We are not fixated on large portions, but rather well balanced and reasonably youthful propagules. Size matters to a certain extent, but a healthy and well proportioned plant makes the difference and we believe those who receive our plants will recognize the quality in our offerings.
- Implementation of high quality shipping practices. Our plants are painstaking packaged to endure their long distance journeys. Daylilies are dry packed in their boxes, which suits them well in the rather warm weather shipping period. Peonies and Lilies are packed in bags filled with near-dry peat, which is an excellent material to both pad and preserve the dormant plants. Packing dormant plants in peat is expensive and time consuming, but the results for gardeners opening their boxes received in the mail are nothing short of fantastic.
Jordan and I are looking forward to providing outstanding nursery stock this coming year and are working to bring new plants to our offerings which we hope will grace many gardens in the future.
Solaris Farms Owner