Alaska Photography & Design

Late bloomers: Late summer peonies are an Alaskan exclusive

Story by Mara Severin

Ships to 48 contiguous states only. Offer not valid in Alaska. Additional shipping charges to Alaska apply. To an Alaskan bride in the midst of wedding planning, these words all mean one thing: “No.”

So you might be surprised to learn that one of the most romantic, desirable, sought-after wedding flowers can be found right here in Alaska. In fact, during some months, this delicate, fragrant bloom can only be found right here in Alaska: the perfect, papery-petaled peony.

“Brides in Alaska can get discouraged when they read the national magazines and see things we can’t get here,” says Coral Howe of Occasions by Coral and Chloë. “But we have something special here that nobody else has.” Coral, in addition to being a wedding planner, has worked with local peony farmers through her job at the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service. Alaska’s unique climate means that our peonies are still blooming long after the ones Outside have given up the ghost. “Peonies are the most coveted flowers in the wedding industry,” she says, and because peonies are a cultivated bloom, “the crop is consistent from year to year.” So, while brides around the country are begging for a few peony stems in August and September, Alaska’s peony farmers are sitting pretty. And so are Alaska’s brides.

Think outside of the box

While brides can source the peonies locally (go to The Alaska Peony Growers Association for a list:, experts recommend that you acquire your stems through a florist. “They need proper care,” says Irene Repper of Echo Lake Peonies in Soldotna. “It takes a certain amount of expertise to get them to open at the correct time.”

Jessica Kiehner of Blushing Blooms agrees. “They’re a tricky flower,” she says. “You have to do a delicate dance with them.” She is one of the local florists who are beginning to take notice of Alaska’s homegrown beauties. “I’m always very open to doing things locally,” she says.

Cory of Cory Carroll Floral & Event Design makes this case for locally grown peonies: “They never see the inside of a box. They never spend time out of water,” he says. And they’re never mishandled in delivery, so there’s no bruising. “The quality is ten times better,” he says. In the summer, Cory drives down to the farms and picks them himself. “My quality standards are ridiculous. I’m really picky,” he says. “I want perfection.”

Size matters

In Alaska, everything is bigger, and peonies are no exception, says Irene. “They’re all doubles,” she says. “We’ve had blossoms that were six to eight inches across at full bloom,” she says. And the colors are “so vibrant compared to outside peonies.”

Jessica agrees: “They come in such an amazing range of colors -- from the really bright, hot pinks with orange-y accents to the more delicate, soft, peach or white or cream-accented ones,” she says. “They’re absolutely beautiful, completely romantic, and nothing can take their place. They’re a flower unto themselves.”

Sweet simplicity

Cory uses them in large centerpieces. “The flowers themselves are so big and prominent – you get a lot of bang for the buck.” Plus, he says, while uniquely fragrant, the scent of a peony doesn’t overwhelm or clash with food at a reception.

Because peonies are so generous and lush, Jessica prefers to showcase them simply “so that the flower really shows,” she says. ”I love them in mason jars with shepherd hooks. I like the less fussy, more organic designs. They’re a way to showcase the actual bloom.”

With an incredibly versatile style, this classic flower also sets a romantic mood for vintage-inspired weddings. Consider using vintage silver trays as centerpieces, floating one big showy bloom in each.

“I like the designs that are a little haphazard – not too sculpted,” she adds. “They’re such a carefree flower.” Peonies are particularly lovely in bridal bouquets, she says, because “the papery little petals have so much movement.”

Alaska has always been a uniquely romantic place for a wedding – mountaintop ceremonies, riverside receptions and midnight sunsets. Now local couples can add to that romance with Alaska’s lush and fragrant peonies.