54-acre Minnesota peony farm with ‘beautiful patchwork of color’ lists for $1.495 million

For Brigitte and Harvey Buchite, it’s all about stopping to smell the flowers. That’s pretty easy when you live on a 54-acre peony farm.

Now after 16 years, this season will be their last. They’ve listed their Spring Grove, Minn., property that includes fields of peonies, a heated greenhouse, nursery building and a contemporary farmhouse.

“We’re retirement age and we want it to be a good transition so we’ve started to find the right individual for the property,” Harvey said. “We don’t want to be in a position where we’re forced to sell because our health is failing somewhere down the line.”‘

Taking root

The couple, who had run a nursery in the Twin Cities area, purchased the property about 150 miles southeast of the Twin Cities in 2006. Almost immediately, they started to transform the prairie with rolling hills into Hidden Springs Flower Farm, specializing in peonies.

Today, the farm has close to 30,000 peony roots and 600 varieties. “It’s a huge number for peony varieties,” Buchite said.

It’s the abundance of peonies as well as rare gems — including new varieties that Buchite has created over the years — that have become a big draw for customers.

“It certainly is a beautiful sight when the peonies are in bloom here. It attracts people from a wide geographical range,” Harvey said. “Every year, there are two sisters who come up from Nebraska. They leave at 2 in the morning and get here bright and early and they fill their trailers up to take back home. We also have do-it-yourself brides who come here because they want to put together their own bouquets.”

Harvey said the farm features other kinds of plants beyond the peony varieties. “People would come here not just for the peonies, but for unusual trees and shrubs and perennials that are hard to find,” he said.

Once their flower operation was underway, the Buchites decided in 2012 to build a new house on the property.

The result: a three-bedroom, two-bathroom contemporary home at just over 2,000 square feet. Tall ceilings, a series of 8-foot windows as well as a covered patio are some of the highlights of the home, which is perched on a hillside overlooking the sea of peonies.

“My wife is Austrian and one of her childhood friends is an architect and he asked if he could design a house for us,” Harvey said. “So that’s how that happened.”

A blooming business

While the person who purchases the property does not have to run it as a peony farm, Harvey said, the operation pays for itself and more. According to the listing, the property has $3.5 million worth of peony flowers plus trees, including hickory, oak, walnut and fruit-bearers.

Harvey said an incoming flower farmer won’t have to start from scratch, either. “Each peony crop takes about five years to mature and that can discourage peony farmers because of the time it takes,” he said. “But the plants are here in the field already so someone could come in and start harvesting flowers and cutting roots without the five-year investment.”

Of course, running a flower farm would take a certain skill set.

“For us as nursery growers, we wear a lot of different hats: marketing, social media, buying, growing, selling,” he said. “Like any other small business, it requires certain skills and I think you have to also be somewhat adventurous and try different things, try newer things.”

For Buchite, hybridizing peonies to create new varieties has helped attract customers — and sustained him. “I love the creative process of seeing some peony seedlings show promise and then to develop them,” he said. “For peony growers, you’re always forward-looking.”

Rolling with the seasons

For a new owner, running the farm from year to year should one day feel like clockwork in some respects. This time of the year, as they do every fall, the couple are spending their days digging up peony roots, splitting, dividing and storing them for shipping across the United States.

“Then we start replanting our own fields of those varieties,” Harvey said. “We finish up around November. As long as the ground isn’t frozen, we’re still planting.”

Come January, the Buchites typically start taking seed orders. Then in mid-May, the earliest blooming peonies pop up. And by the end of June, the latest blooms will arrive and last for several weeks.

“It’s a beautiful patchwork of color. When the peonies bloom, they bloom in succession so the early-blooming hybrid peonies start the color wave; cherry reds to coral colors to white to pink,” he said.

If you asked the Buchites, the greatest reward is the customers.

“We absolutely love it. People run through the fields and take pictures. We hear them say to one another ‘This bloom is as big as your head’ or ‘I’ve been looking for this heirloom my grandfather had in his yard,’ ” Harvey said. “Or, the bride who doesn’t have $3,000 to spend on her wedding flowers, for a couple hundred dollars and with a little creativity, she can put together her dream wedding. Plants bring joy, and that’s what motivates me.”

Krista Wolter (kjwolter@cbburnet.com; 612-247-5106) has the $1.495 million listing.