SEQUIM — For a long time, Happy Valley has had lavender, lamb and llama farms — and now, thanks to a self-described “deprived gardener,” it has peonies.
Scores of them.
The Peony Farm, 2204 Happy Valley Road, comprises 2 acres and some 60 varieties, with an average of eight plants of each variety.
All are cultivated by a woman who, before she got here, couldn’t have much of a garden at all.
Amy Hall and her husband, Michael, lived in a townhouse in San Diego for the first 12 years of their marriage, so Amy planted things in containers, and arranged them around their place. The homeowners’ association would come around and write her up now and again, Michael remembered.
So, about five years ago, the Halls went looking for a place with a yard where Amy could fly her horticultural flag more freely.
“About $800,000 might have gotten us something we could work with,” in San Diego County, Michael recalled.
A Southern California spread wasn’t in the cards. But when some neighbors moved to the Olympic Peninsula, the Halls got on the Internet and researched the region.
In 2002 they found their place just outside Sequim, and Amy, a Countrywide home loan officer, transferred to the Countrywide office here.
Then Bank of America bought Countrywide and Amy was laid off. She decided the time had come to pursue her longtime dream of growing a flower farm; the question was which flower to focus on.
She’d adored peonies ever since moving to the United States from the Philippines in 1967 — she remembers seeing them in romantic movies — but they would not grow in San Diego.
Peonies need cold winters to develop their rootstock, Amy said. Which makes the Pacific Northwest a place where they can flourish like mad.
Peonies are among the late-spring blooms wowing people at the Cutting Garden in Dungeness and the Sunshine Herb & Lavender Farm in Blyn, for example.
So last year, Amy planted about 170 herbaceous peony roots in her Happy Valley yard and got to work on marketing.
Mixing her love of gardening with her background in business, she established a website for the farm, www.ILovePeonies.com, and filled it with information about how to buy and nurture the plants.
Then she compiled a catalog for farm visitors to pore over.
Opening weekend came May 1 and 2 — a cold, windy couple of days. The Halls didn’t expect a crowd, but what the visitors lacked in quantity they made up for in enthusiasm.
“You can tell peony lovers,” Amy said. “They went down row after row after row.
“I told them, ‘I’m so flattered that you would come out in this weather,’ and they said, ‘Oh, we’re Sequimers'” and used to chilly weather in May, thank you.
Then came Irrigation Festival parade weekend, with a burst of bright sunshine and a wave of people from out of town. They came from California, Seattle, even Hawaii, Amy said.
“They saw our Peony Farm sign” on U.S. Highway 101, “and they made a U-turn.”
Some brought their families to see the farm, and “that was very gratifying.”
A soothing foray
A drive into Happy Valley is a soothing foray for the traffic-weary urban dweller, especially with the hillsides rising verdant on the horizon.
But Amy’s peonies themselves weren’t yet spectacular when she first opened her gate; late last week, they were still in tight buds.
So the farmer marked each row with pictures showing how each variety will look in full bloom, and reminded her visitors that “peonies on parade,” as in the big bloom, is coming soon.
The flowers’ names are, not surprisingly, evocative: Bowl of Beauty, Pink Jitterbug, Beautiful Senorita, Abalone Pearl.
Amy’s favorite is Paula Fay, described as “shocking pink” on her website.
Peonies vary widely in shape, size, color and fragrance, the farmer said, adding that she’ll have another 15 varieties in stock this fall for a total of 75.
In her catalog, prices range from $16 for the Festiva Maxima variety to $26.95 for Coral Charm to $60 for the Hephestos tree peony.
Michael Hall, meanwhile, marvels at how his wife made the farm happen. He’s no small part of it, as the one who moved loads of dirt and dug numerous holes.
It’s her passion and her imagination, he said, that “just blow me away.”
There have been times when Michael, a home designer and remodeler, wondered about his wife’s peony farming plan. But “everything she comes up with, she makes it work.”
The peonies will be in full glory by late May, Amy said, and the farm will stay open through Sequim Lavender Festival weekend of July 16-18; orders for plants are being taken at the farm and at www.ILovePeonies.com.
A little more than two miles southwest of the Happy Valley Road turnoff from Highway 101, the Peony Farm is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and on Saturdays. For information, phone Amy at 360-808-4099.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at email@example.com.