Veteran Farmer Prepares For Peony Festival

Welcome back as we introduce you to the bounty of specialty crops that Wisconsin has to offer and the families who produce them.

Nestled in the rural countryside of Beaver Dam, Ovans Peony Farm is getting ready for thousands of peony plants to bloom.

Purchasing a farm with land was the first step for Michelle and Mike after they returned to Wisconsin following 20-year careers in the U.S. Navy. Michelle had no idea what she was going to grow on their newly acquired land, but she knew she wanted to put roots down in the community. She decided on entering the cut flower industry.

Over the last three decades, 80 percent of flowers purchased in the U.S. come from South America. Only 20 percent are grown domestically. California and Florida are the primary flower-growing states.

Michelle spent a year educating herself on farming peonies and starting an agribusiness before planting the crop. In 2009, she started her first peony farm in Merill, Wisconsin. Growers have to wait until the fourth year before harvesting for the first time. But Michelle was able to open the farm up to the public to enjoy the beauty. Over 600 people traveled to edge of the Northwoods to see the peonies in all their splendor.

People know the peony as a “generational plant.” The plants outlive people and sometimes multiple generations. Every time the roots are divided and shared, the plant restarts as a juvenile.

Wisconsin has a strong history involving peonies, with hybridizers who are world-famous. One hybridizer is Roger Anderson from Fort Atkinson. He developed the highly sought-after yellow peony, Bartzella. Nate Bremer from Solaris Farms in Reedsville is hybridizing next-generation Lutea Woodie peonies. There are only a handful of breeders worldwide introducing these types of tree peonies.

Six years ago, Ovans Peony Farm relocated to Beaver Dam. Mike and Michelle found a 100-year-old farm to reestablish their beloved peony farm. This farm was a blank canvas, and Michelle knew
exactly how she wanted to share the beauty of the peonies with the public.

Four years ago, Ovans Peony Farm partnered with the Beaver Dam Chamber of Commerce to form the Wisconsin Arts & Peony Festival.

This partnership has promoted agritourism showcasing the farm and its significance in forwarding the cut flower industry in the U.S. It also promotes the historical connection with peonies in Wisconsin. In just a few years, festival attendance grew to 5,000 visitors and a local economic impact totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Learn more about the festival’s events:

The American Peony Society will host its annual convention and national flower show during the festival in 2025. Part of the attraction is a display garden Michelle planted in downtown Beaver Dam. The selection of the plants in this garden was based on three criteria: awarded the Gold Medal, Awarded Landscape & Merit by the American Peony Society, or hybridized in Wisconsin. The American Peony Society has recently selected the “Beaver Dam Peony Garden – Celebrating Heritage and Excellence” as a reference garden.

She says through the Wisconsin Agricultural Tourism Association, you can find a network of specialty crop farmers to help you start or expand your own farm ag-venture. Learn more about how to engage with Wisconsin’s agricultural tourism industry at

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This podcast series is courtesy of Specialty Crop Block Grant 23-10.