Weston Farm Peonies | Brighton Tasmania
Peonies are obsessive. Their full, volumptuous skirts of petals mesmerise. Like a beautiful symphony their composition makes you feel something deep inside. If you’re like me, they make you feel like you want to fill your entire house with oodles of them. That’s why, this spring, I took a little trip outside Hobart to a farm that specialises in peonies. I had such a great time learning about these beautiful plants and the inspiring couple who grow them.
Richard and Belinda Weston (the Westons) own and run Weston Farm. It’s a small farm in Brighton where they grow olives for olive oil, and premium fresh farm produce for restaurants and cafes across Tasmania, including Pigeon Hole in West Hobart, which they own. It’s also where they grow and harvest rows and rows of beautiful peonies every Spring.
Richard has a background in horticulture and landscaping, Belinda in building design. They bought the Farm in 1992 and and have planted every single, tree, shrub, vegetable and flower that’s growing there now. It’s an impressive, green oasis in a district that is mostly dry, dusty land used for grazing.
The olive grove was planted at the farm before the Westons even built their house. At this time the couple moved to Port Arthur for several years, where Richard helped to restore the beautiful gardens and grounds at the historic site. On returning, the Westons established their own quarantine facility and imported over 1000 peony tubers from Holland. These were planted in 1998. Since then many more peonies have been planted.
Weston Farm is approximately five, very productive, hectares. Every square inch is used in a sustainable manner. The Westons have a beautiful way of working with the delicate ecosystem around them. I was surprised to see their bumper strawberry crop un-netted and was assured that there’s enough for them, and the businesses they supply, even after the blue tongues and the birds have snacked on a few. They don’t use sprays.This would not only wipe out the unwanted bugs but also the useful ones, like the ladybirds. Even the rows of olives have beautiful wide corridors of grass between them. It’s a wonderful philosophy of allowing the natural rhythms of the farm take place.
In the Springtime the Westons turn all their attention to the Peonies. There are still vegetables growing and being harvested but in Richard’s own words;
“They baby the peonies”.
Hearing them talk about all the different varieties they grow is like hearing about individual personalities. Each variety has it’s own character traits, and the Westons hold them all dear. Through years of experience and research the Westons have worked out exactly the right times for picking each of their 30 odd varieties. When it’s time to pick the blooms their rule of thumb is one for them and one for plant. This ensures the longevity of the plant. Rather than growing them in polytunnels the Westons field grow their peonies. This ensures the blooms are hardy and last as long as possible in a vase.
Early morning is when harvesting takes place. The Weston's cite this as their favourite time. The peaceful solitude of dawn gives them time to think and chat. Often they spy bumble bees still snoozing in the blooms.
I came away from Weston Farm feeling inspired. Not just to keep working in my own garden though. I was inspired to keep striving to fulfill my dreams, and to keep learning new skills. The Westons are so full of plans and ideas. They are so motivated to keep expanding and continue building on what they already have, making it EVEN better. They seem to have endless energy. In 2012 Richard even won a Nuffield Scholarship and headed to Europe for a few months, learning farming practices there. With this in mind it’s no surprise to learn that Weston peonies are highly prized by florists right across Australia. Their olive oil has won several awards, and they were recently contacted by Quay Restaurant in Sydney to supply something extra special that they plan to grow soon (that's all still a bit secret though).
If you want to experience Western Farm produce I'd strongly recommend you visit their West Hobart cafe, Pigeon Hole. The food and coffee there are exceptional. Their seasonal produce is also found, among others, at Pilgrim Cafe and the Source Restaurant, MONA. You can buy their Peonies at Pigeon Hole cafe, the Farmers Market on weekends, and most good florists across Tasmania.
If you want to embark on a tour of Weston Farm, these are arranged through Pigeon Hole cafe.