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In a word, peonies are Gorgeous

Sandy area peony nursery is in the midst of the annual, but short, bloom cycle


by: POST PHOTO: JIM HART - Holly Martin, foreground, carries several blooms off the field, while others walk the rows and choose the blooms they find particularly fragrant or beautiful.The peonies are a bloomin’ The peonies are a bloomin’. That’s the call heard all around the Elk Pass Nursery, a few miles north of Sandy.

Elk Pass Nursery, operated by Holly and Mike Martin, is the only peony nursery within miles, and its elegant blooms are now in the middle of their short glowing season.

The Martins offered their beautiful blooms at the Sandy Saturday Market last week and followed with an open field day at the nursery Sunday. This coming Sunday, the field will be open again, with quite a few species to choose from — each hue different from the others in single colors or combinations of pink, white, rose and deep red.

by: POST PHOTO: JIM HART - Chloe Martin finds this flower particularly fragrant and beautiful.That colorful glow can be seen down near the Sandy River, while passing the nursery on either Hudson or Lusted roads.

Just watch out for the herds of elk that occasionally are seen walking through the nursery. That’s how the 28-acre farm got its new name after the Martins bought it and decided to raise monkey puzzle trees and peonies — both plants hated by elk and deer, so no fencing is necessary.

After retiring from her law practice, Holly Martin moved from San Francisco to Sandy, bought a former strawberry farm and later decided to raise peonies.

All of her friends from the big city were amazed at the transformation. All they knew was that big-city-dweller Martin had absolutely no interest in plants or dirt.

But after some research and a little encouragement from a friend who gave her some peony roots to plant, Martin was hooked. For the past 15 years, this has been her business in retirement (from her law practice).

Besides the nursery fields, where Martin sells blooms and roots, Elk Pass blooms show up at trade shows, farmers markets, flower shops and those grocery stores with flower coolers.

She calls peonies “bullet-proof” because there isn’t much that will damage or kill them and almost no wild animals will touch them.

“We ended up choosing our crops,” she said, “according to what would survive around elk.”

In fact, peonies will live for about 100 years, and no additional water or fertilizer is needed after they are established — even though they’re best in full sun. They just need to have grass kept away.

“They’re a happy plant,” Martin said, “a forgiving plant.”

In the fall, they are cut to the ground and the plant material hauled off the field and burned (not used for compost) each year. That will prevent any of the plant material from rotting on the soil and transferring that fungus to next year’s living plants.

In the fall, she digs roots and cuts them into pieces, each with eyes — just like potato roots are cut and replanted to form new plants.

Peonies, Martin said, have been popular in ages past and are now coming into popularity again — more than likely because of the beauty and fragrance of new varieties and similar blooms called “sports.”

“They are an old-fashioned flower,” she said. “But they’ve come back into vogue in a big way.”

Considering the fact the plants only bloom once a year and the reasonable price for the large, beautiful blooms, Martin is not in this business to fund her retirement.

“I’m doing this for the love of the flowers,” she said. “And I do it because it gives pleasure to other people; that gives me joy.”

Martin is inviting people to come to the nursery this Sunday afternoon. There’ll be plenty of colorful blooms available. But even if everyone doesn’t buy flowers, they’ll get an education because Martin is talkative and she knows her plants.

The nursery will be open from 1-4 p.m. Sunday, June 9, at 39100 Lusted Road, just north of the intersection of Lusted and Hudson roads.

For more information or to ask for another time when Martin can show the blooms, call her at 503-663-0419.