Amid the breathtaking scenery of the Galilee Mountains – in the north of Israel – is the nursery of the only Israeli peony grower in My Peony Society. The nursery gets its name from the Galilee Mountains. Yair Ben Gershon is a regular visitor because he is involved in importing peonies from Israel on behalf of My Peony Society. He is happy to tell us more about “this nice, modest peony grower deserves the spotlight!”
Grower Dani Maman of Galilee Mountains used to grow Golden Delicious apples. About nine years ago, he cautiously started growing peonies as a trial. It went so well that he completely switched to peonies. And how! In the last few years, Galilee Mountains has become a major peony nursery, supplying two million (!) peonies annually. From Sarah Bernhardt to Gardenia, from Kansas to Bowl of Cream. The nursery grows 14 different varieties. “That’s a lot for a peony nursery,” says Yair. “Three or four is more common. And every year the grower tries out new varieties.”
The cultivation method is also unusual. “Peonies are usually grown in the ground, but at Galilee Mountains the plants are grown in pots. This creates a lot of extra work. And it is not easy to do, because not every variety of peony thrives equally well in a pot. It’s a matter of trial and error.” So, why all the effort? “Israel is a Mediterranean country. In winter it can be 18 or 19°C,” says Yair. “However, peony plants need cold winter nights. To make the plants think it is winter, the grower moves the potted plants in cold storage for a while. He knows exactly how long it will take. He then puts the pots with the plants back outside in simple greenhouses. From that point, the outside temperature in Israel is perfect for peonies.”
The Israeli peony season runs from January to the end of April. At Galilee Mountains, the peonies are harvested, sorted and tied by hand. “The grower determines the length of the stems based on the flower size. No machines are involved, it is all manual work. This results in perfectly uniform batches of peonies, which also open perfectly in the vase. That is what Galilee Mountains is now known for.”
Their passion for peonies is reflected in the Galilee Mountains range, including: Bowl of Cream, Command Performance, Dr. Alexander Fleming, Sarah Bernhardt, Sarah Bernhardt Red, Gardenia, Red Charm, Coral Sunset, Kansas and Catharina Fontijn.