It may be still be winter, but some Alaskans are already thinking about summer and peonies.
Ron Illingworth, of North Pole, is one of those people.
He is president of North Pole Peonies, the largest peony cut flower producer in Interior Alaska and winner of the 2014 Growers Cup.
The award was passed to him from inaugural winner Pat Holloway at the Alaska Peony Growers Conference in Anchorage earlier this month.
Illingworth also happens to be a founding member of the Alaska Peony Growers Association and is now president of the new Arctic Alaska Peony Cooperative.
Growing and selling peonies in Interior Alaska is all about collaboration, he told me from Seattle, where he is recovering from knee replacement surgery.
He’s excited about the new co-op.
“That’s going to be doing all the orders from the Interior now,” he said.
Orders are already rolling in and so far, they’re ahead of last year.
Alaska peonies are unique because they bloom in July and August.
“There’s no peonies anyplace else in the world that bloom that time of year,” Illingworth said.
In the Lower 48, peonies bloom in May and June. In the southern hemisphere, like New Zealand, peonies bloom in November and December. Hence, the “Christmas Peony.”
“We’ve got summer, they’ve got winter,” he said.
Joining forces in a cooperative will be very beneficial for Alaska growers, he said.
It takes peonies five years to mature in Alaska. So even though Illingworth has 10,000 peonies planted, he can only harvest about 1,000 of those in 2014.
“Next year, we will be adding peonies that come to maturity at the rate of 2,000 a year,” he said.
Growing and selling peonies is not something you can just dabble in. It takes commitment.
But Illingworth said the new Alaska cooperative will be a great help to all the growers.
There are many smaller growers with just 500 to 1,000 peonies planted. They can harvest smaller numbers and still sell them to the co-op, providing a substantial number of peonies overall for buyers.
Illingworth has been growing peonies for about 10 years. Since then, the industry has grown to include growers in Kenai as well, he said.
There is still snow on the ground, but summer is fast approaching. Illingworth said his wife has given him a deadline of May 1 for being fully mobile.
He said he’ll be ready.
Illingworth retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1985 after 20 years of service. He was a faculty member at University of Alaska Fairbanks, retiring in 2010.
He was instrumental in supporting the peony research conducted by UAF’s School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and arranged for the donation of peony roots to the Georgeson Botanical Garden.
He and his wife Marjorie grow peonies for the cut flower industry on their farm outside of North Pole, where they sell and ship peonies nationally and internationally.
Ladies, do you remember the first time someone called you ma’am?
If you’re anything like me, you turned around to see if your mother was standing behind you.
That comment just made you suddenly feel old.
Well, I am on to the next phase of this experience.
Some girlfriends and I had dinner at a downtown restaurant a couple months ago and the waiter who took my order called me “honey bunny.”
“You know,” I told my friends, “they only do that if you look really old.”
I didn’t think I looked that old.
But it happened again this week.
I was in a store, being helped by someone who was all of maybe 22 years old.
In the span of about seven minutes, she called me “sweetheart,” “honey” and then “sweetie” as she thanked me for my business.
I am sure these people don’t mean to be disrespectful, but it just bugs me.
And I don’t ever know how to respond, except to raise my eyebrows in surprise — because if I say anything, maybe I really am a crabby old lady.
Contact community editor and columnist Kris Capps at firstname.lastname@example.org and at 459-7546. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMKris.