116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The tan farmhouse is surrounded by hundreds of green, bushy plants covered in lush blooms, some as big as salad plates. There are peonies as far as the eyes can see, in colors ranging from pure white to yellow, pale blush to red, and deep burgundy. There's even the occasional surprising pop of coral.
It’s June 10 on Grimm’s Peony Farm and Gardens in rural Lamont and peony season is in full bloom. That’s about two weeks later than in a typical Iowa spring. But this year was a cool and wet one. Every spring, peony lovers visit the farm’s Facebook page for daily updates on in-bloom status until finally, it’s happening — peak bloom.
Unfortunately, the rain had barely let up for days and the peonies were dripping wet, with heavy flower heads that hung to the ground, but it was still glorious. Purple allium and irises in various solid colors and color combinations stood tall among the drooping peonies. Wisteria and clematis were climbing the arbors and trellises throughout the two-acre property.
What: Grimm Peony Farm and Gardens
Where: 3872 F Ave., Lamont, Iowa
When: spring, summer and fall — watch for announcements online
Details: They have more than 1,000 plus peonies, 800 different varieties; 400 plus day lilies, irises, hostas and lilies
Owners Brian and Mary Grimm are as ready as the peonies for the hundreds of visitors, shoppers and tour groups to arrive. The Grimms have owned the property for 15 years, and the gardens are different every year.
“We like all the plants, but peonies are our passion,” Mary Grimm said.
That may be an understatement.
Shoppers park along one long driveway or the other, snag a sale sheet from a wooden box on a post then look around for the best area of the property to walk first. This is a place for lazy browsing, for slow walks with no other purpose than to admire with the eyes and the nose.
Even if there isn’t a clear pathway, there’s usually enough room to step carefully between the peony bushes. There are plenty of sunny and shady places throughout the grounds to sit and rest or take selfies, group photos or extreme close-ups of favorite blooms.
Just when you think you have narrowed a favorite to a peony or three, you’ll spot another flower bed with even more to choose from. Most plants and shrubs have metal labels identifying the variety stuck in the ground under or adjacent to the plant. Many, but not all, are listed on the sale sheet.
“We have a thousand plus (peonies) in the ground,” Mary Grimm said. “We grow close to 700 varieties and sell 150 varieties or more.”
The potted plants and cash register are under an open tent behind the house. Plastic-protected colored photos showcase the varieties sold, all grouped by color. Peony plants or roots primarily sell from $20, with a few listed at $25 or $40. The intersectional peonies — also known as Itoh peonies, a type of hybrid — start at $40. Bartzella, a yellow intersectional hybrid with foliage that stays green and upright all summer, commands the highest price: $60.
After the peonies finish blooming, the Grimms along with Brian’s sister Dixie Wellman shut down the farm to visits. This year the shutdown happened on June 19.
The closing is necessary. It’s a lot of work to cut off the spent blooms. However, the foliage remains to put energy into the roots to strengthen and grow the plant. Cutting the vegetation in the summer can damage the plant.
“Sometimes it will come back, but sometimes it won’t,” Brian Grimm said.
Day lilies in July
The shutdown is only temporary. The farm will once again open in early July just as day lilies begin to bloom. That might be the first or second week of July, but typically it’s after the Fourth of July. Check the farm’s Facebook page for details as everything is weather dependent.
“Again, everything is Mother Nature,” Mary Grimm said.
The farm has between 1,300 and 1,400 day lilies, so there will be plenty to choose from. The Grimms sell seedlings and named varieties. Customers simply tell them which they'd like, and the daylily is dug up, divided and sold on the spot.
In the fall, they will cut off the foliage and dig up the roots and sell them, too. Brian Grimm recently discovered a timesaving option: battery-powered hedge clippers to trim the foliage in fall. They’ll still have to gather the trimmings by hand for burning rather than composting the foliage, which helps ward off disease.
The three of them do most of the work, plus the occasional part-timers — when they can get them. They rarely have time to sit outside and enjoy quiet moments surveying the gardens as they are too busy weeding — all by hand — cutting off dead blooms, transplanting, and, of course, helping customers.
In the fall, the farm offers mums — 400 were sold last year — and the sun porch becomes a gift shop filled with holiday and seasonal items.
“My husband and I just love the process of blooming and watching them mature,” Mary Grimm said.
They moved from a corner lot in Strawberry Point 15 years ago. The new owner planned to mow over the peonies, so the Grimms rescued the plants by digging them up and hauling them to the acreage.
“We moved more truckloads of plants than furniture,” Mary Grimm said with a chuckle.
Twenty-one pickup truckloads, to be specific, Brian Grimm said. The plan was to have one wide row of peony plants along their driveway. Then a Master Gardener suggested they show others their plants and a business was formed.
Brian Grimm hybridizes day lilies and peonies to get new varieties. Even with the hundreds of varieties on hand, the Grimms often search for something new. For years they tried to get a Door County Sunset peony. The rare peony is listed for sale online once a year, and within minutes, they’d be gone.
“Finally, one year, we made it,” Mary Grimm said.
Brian and Mary Grimm offers these tips when caring for your peonies.
Deadhead your peonies after blooms are spent. This helps the plant conserve energy for next year’s blooms.
Peonies are drought tolerant, so only water in extreme drought conditions. However, young plants may need a drink more often.
This is the time to cut your peonies down to an inch or two above ground for herbaceous and Itoh peonies. Tree peonies are the exception. Tree peonies should only be trimmed for shape or damage or disease.
Since dead foliage carries fungal spores that may cause diseases. It’s best to burn rather than compost peony foliage.
Remove any mulch or debris covering the crown of your peony. If you haven’t cut down your foliage, do so in early spring to avoid spreading fungal spores.
Plant peonies in a spot that gets six or more hours of sun each day, although tree peonies can handle a little shade. A peony needs to be planted with the pink or red nubs called eyes 1 1/2 to 2 inches below the soil, but no deeper, or the plant may not bloom.
You may transplant potted peonies any time. However, bare root peonies are best planted in the fall. Peony roots begin growing in the fall.