Tasmanian flower farmers find joy in peonies after stepping away from commercial market


Every November, Andrea O’Halloran gets to watch a field of fluffy, pink and white peonies explode from the red dirt of her family farm.

It’s a sight she’ll never grow tired of.

“It’s lovely, I really look forward to November each year,” she admitted.

“I find it so amazing … this paddock, would you believe, was bare at the beginning of September.”

That paddock has been nearly 20 years in the making after Ms O’Halloran’s family, the Craigies, decided to take a punt on the cut flower market.

“We planted our first plants about 17 years ago, and it took about three years to get the entire 8,000 plants in,” she said, walking around a flower-filled paddock at Heathermoor, her family farm near Devonport, Tasmania.

“We’ve probably been picking for about 14 years.”

She said the farm successfully entered the commercial cut flower market once the plants were established, shipping pallets filled with thousands of blooms over to the mainland each year.

But, due in part to the flower’s notoriously “short and sweet” season, Ms O’Halloran said the family had found the market increasingly stressful.

“We ended up stepping away from the commercial sales — we found them just a little bit too intensive,” she said.

“We had to send every bloom we had.

“And the market’s probably getting a bit tight there. Whereas we quite enjoy this side of being able to go to the farmers markets with our bunch of flowers or sell them from our gate, and also welcome people into the paddock.”

Ms O’Halloran said that shift into a more “grassroots” operation had given them more freedom to enjoy their flowers.

Blooms among the gloom
It was also handy this year, when La Nina played havoc with the already short season.

“We really only have a three-week picking window … although we can prolong our season by picking and storing in the cold storage,” she said.

“Like everyone, we’ve been impacted by the weather.”

Ms O’Halloran said the unseasonable weather had resulted in the flowers blooming later than usual and the constant moisture had created a greater risk of disease.

“I’ve found the picking more condensed and more intense … I think it was because the plants were just sitting there waiting for some sunlight, and when it came everything just bloomed at once,” she said.

Despite miserable, windy conditions, Ms O’Halloran said flocks of people had still marched through the farm gate this year to pick their own blooms.

“I think it’s because they’re a beautiful flower, they are just genuinely so lovely,” she said.

“That really … makes it worthwhile.”