EAGLE RIVER — Four years of consistent care, tending, watering and weeding are about to pay off for the Alaska Mountain Peony farm owned by the Stiehr family off Monastery Drive in Eagle River.
In 2013, the family of seven planted 700 peony plants in hopes of entering a floral market that is blooming with possibility in Alaska.
Andrea Stiehr, the family’s mom and lead gardener, was a woman full of hope for the summer 2017 on a recent cool Monday evening as she showed off the buds that contain what will become a gorgeous, large flower full of color — often chosen by brides for decorating their wedding receptions.
“I think their size is impressive,” Andrea said as she examined plants. “They are every bit as beautiful as big roses and smell just wonderful but have more interesting petals and they do not have the thorns that are on a rose plus they have a longer vase life than a tulip.”
With this being her first year to harvest, Stiehr is marketing the pending results of four years of patience and delayed floral satisfaction to local florists.
She well may be onto a profitable side venture for her family.
The peony industry in Alaska saw its first big boon about five years ago as numerous growers obtained rootstock and began planting. Today, more than 50 farms are registered with the Alaska Peony Growers Association. At an average price of $5 per stem, the peony flower has the potential of being a profitable cash crop.
Despite the flower’s growing popularity, they still are not available in Alaska year-round.
That surprised Stiehr, who hopes to one day help change that.
“We (the industry) will fill that gap,” she said.
At Alaska Mountain Peony, the farm is a indeed a family operation.
All five children – Evelyn, Josephine, Leonid, Roman and Veronica – ranging in ages from 16 to 6 lend Andrea and her husband, Jesse Stiehr, a helping hand.
Even if they really don’t want to.
“Some days they like weeding less than other days,” Andrea joked.
Yet, each child has several rows assigned to them with their parents and Andrea’s folks – Dan and Melinda Kendall – overseeing the tending that includes regular watering and weeding.
“I want my kids to grow up to be capable people able to take care of themselves and this is one way for them to learn those skills,” she said.
Her oldest – son Roman, age 16 – has already taken steps toward creating independence. He has purchased bees and set up hives near the field. His plans are to harvest the honey and help his father make mead. But more important to the peony flowers, Roman’s bees help keep the flowers clean and disease free.
The bees gather the sap from the flowers and keep the flowers clean.
It is a win-win, according to Andrea.
The family commitment to the flowers goes well beyond weeding. It also includes having to haul massive amounts of water from an offsite source.
After two months of hauling water by hand, Andrea and Jesse had a system of heavy-duty plastic piping installed throughout the rows of peonies.
It was an expensive investment, she admits.
But well worth it.
“Watering by hand was not fun,” she said.
If Mother Nature continues to cooperate, by mid-July Alaska Mountain Peony farm will have three varieties ready for customers: The Avalanche, Duchess De Nemours and the Coral Sunset.
A recent visit to the farm revealed an abundance of buds developing at the top of the peony plants.
The peony is a flower sold in bud form to a customer. After it is placed in water at room temperature, it blooms, Andrea explained.
She likes to display peony flowers along with Alaska’s forget-me-nots and wild ferns, but the peony flower has enough character to display well on its own.
Andrea is confident the plants are ready to produce this year.
“I can see a real difference in them,” she said. “The petals are different and the plants are mature.”
Learn more about Alaska Mountain Peony farm online at www.alaskamountainpeony.com or at is namesake page on Facebook. Contact Andrea Stiehr at 726-7238.
Amy Armstrong is a co-conspirator at Alaska Family Fun, which can be found online at alaskafamilyfun.com.