Debbie Arrington

Seeds: Peony farm along Mokelumne may be near its final days

Dragonfly owner Julia Moore uses a wagon to transport peonies for customers Sharon and Jerry Willis of Jackson in 2012. Peonies -- those big, frilly, romantic flowers that put on a show in late spring -- are having a renaissance. More gardeners are incorporating them into their landscapes. New eye-catching varieties make them hard to resist. Dragonfly Peony Farm in the Sierra foothill town of Wilseyville grows thousands.
Dragonfly owner Julia Moore uses a wagon to transport peonies for customers Sharon and Jerry Willis of Jackson in 2012. Peonies -- those big, frilly, romantic flowers that put on a show in late spring -- are having a renaissance. More gardeners are incorporating them into their landscapes. New eye-catching varieties make them hard to resist. Dragonfly Peony Farm in the Sierra foothill town of Wilseyville grows thousands. rpench@sacbee.com

Julia Moore created a colorful oasis on a steep Sierra hillside. On terraces overlooking the middle fork of the Mokelumne River, she planted peonies – not just a few, but hundreds. She started selling peony plants online as well as to springtime visitors. After more than a decade, her peony collection now numbers more than a thousand.

Moore’s Dragonfly Peony Farm evolved into a must-see attraction, especially on Mother’s Day weekend when the flowers are often at their best.

Ninety miles from Sacramento near Wilseyville, Dragonfly has become an annual excursion for many families. During open house weekends, Moore sells cut blooms as well as whole plants. (Cash or check only.) Visitors revel in the heavenly scent of the blooms as well as their breathtaking beauty.

But her annual flower show may be coming to a close. Moore’s health has deteriorated to the point where it’s difficult for her to care for her flower farm and keep up its trails.

“This is the last year of the peony farm unless someone wants to take it over,” said Moore, a former singer and antiques dealer.

“My health has gone downhill and I spent a lot of time this winter at ‘lung boot camp.’”

Complicating issues is California’s continuing drought. Many gardeners have stopped buying and planting additions to their landscapes until rainfall returns to something nearer normal. Like other garden favorites, peonies have become a luxury.

Considered medium water users, peonies have some built-in drought tolerance: Weekly irrigation works fine. But Moore has more than an acre of them. Climbing water costs make her little flower farm expensive to keep going, too.

Moore sent out her annual postcard invitations for patrons to see the peonies one last time. With free admission, the garden is open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Fridays-Sundays through May 24.

“It is kind of depressing, but on the flip side, I don’t have the stamina to do it any longer,” Moore said.

Moore and her beloved springer spaniel, Lilly, posted a notice on the farm’s website, thanking “everyone for their support and love over these many years. ... Please come visit us for our likely last open house. I would love to see all of you and give big hugs!”

At 2,800 feet elevation, her peonies open a little later than those in Sacramento. They should be gorgeous this weekend. (Remember to wear shoes suitable for trekking steep trails.) Dragonfly Peony Farm, 5590 Charles St., Wilseyville.

For directions and details: www.dragonflypeonyfarm.com.

Water-wise help

Our thirst for water-wise gardening help has never been greater. Patrons swarmed the recent Elk Grove Greener Gardens tour. A similar tour and DIY expo are planned for Roseville.

A May 16 self-guided Roseville Greener Gardens tour will show what homeowners did when they got rid of lawn. Featured will be Roseville front yards that benefited from the city’s “Cash for Grass” landscape program, plus “River Friendly” gardens that encourage wildlife and sustainability.

It’s a great opportunity to see how other homeowners tackled the common problem of having a beautiful landscape with less water.

“We label plants, so you don’t have to guess,” said Cheryl Buckwalter, director of EcoLandscape and one of the event’s organizers. “A professional commentary about every garden describes why the garden is desirable, doable and appropriate for our region. Sometimes the tips and stories behind our gardens are as interesting as the gardeners themselves.”

Participants should register in advance at www.roseville.ca.us/gardentour or (916) 746-1550. Suggested donation is $5 per vehicle. Patrons may also sign up on tour day.

The same day, the Roseville Utility Exploration Center (1501 Pleasant Grove Blvd., Roseville) in Mahany Park will host a free DIY water-wise expo and marketplace from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The expo has something for anyone interested in saving water – which means just about everyone – and will provide the tools to whittle away on daily consumption, indoors and out. Irrigation pros will offer free workshops on how to retrofit sprinklers and install drip systems. Learn how to master your irrigation controller as well as detect (and fix) leaks.

The marketplace will feature products for saving water or stretching that precious moisture a little farther. That includes equipment for saving rain and transferring “laundry to landscape” gray water.

As a special bonus, get 30 minutes of expert landscape advice for your own garden project for $30. These discounted consultations will be with members of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers and tailored to your specific needs. Bring your photos, sketches and ideas. To reserve a time slot, call Marti Meyer at (916) 837-8541.

Hands-on demonstrations will show how to convert lawns to less thirsty alternatives by sheet-mulching or solarization. Learn about composting and caring for trees in drought conditions. Other exhibits show how to create a backyard habitat for wildlife (think birds, bees and butterflies), use “integrated pest management” (aka making the most of those good bugs), select the right plant for the right place, identify invasive plants, use permeable surfaces, create rain gardens and more.

UC master gardeners will be on hand to tackle plant and pest questions. Family friendly fun and food trucks round out this very full morning, then see the Greener Gardens for yourself. You’ll feel water wiser without spilling a drop.

Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington. Read her Seeds columns at sacbee.com/debbie-arrington

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