Pick up gorgeous peonies at this Norfolk farm 

Peony Farm, Erpingham House Farm, Pictures: Brittany Woodman

Do you need flowers for an upcoming event? Head for Erpingham House Farm where you can pick your own peonies - Credit: Brittany Woodman

Symbolising love, good luck, prosperity and honour, the peony (originally native to Asia) dates back around 4,000 years. There are 33 recognised types of the flower, which was used in ancient medicine to treat headaches, asthma and – er, childbirth pain. And its name stems from Greek mythology. When Aphrodite found Apollo was up to no good with a nymph named Paeonia, the enraged goddess turned the naughty nymph into a flower.

The blooms remain one of the most popular bridal and event flowers in the UK - and you can pick your own for the next couple of weeks in Norfolk. 

Head down the A140 from Norwich towards Cromer and you’ll see a bright pink hand-painted sign seductively declaring ‘Cut Peonies’. You might then find yourself putting on your breaks, urgently spellbound, as you turn into the sleepy village of Erpingham, whereupon you’ll find Erpingham House Farm and its tiny farm shop selling the flowers in tall bunches of red, white and pink. 

Farmer Buffy Wilcox who has diversified to sell PYO peonies at Erpingham House Farm

Farmer Buffy Wilcox who has diversified to sell PYO peonies at Erpingham House Farm - Credit: Brittany Woodman

Peony Farm, Erpingham House Farm. Pictures: Brittany Woodman

Pick your own peonies at Erpingham House Farm - Credit: Brittany Woodman

Buffy Wilcox is a farmer who understands how important it is to diversify in the current economic and social climate, having already added asparagus and Christmas trees to his traditional cattle farming. Buffy’s wife is Kate Bagnall-Oakeley, a locally renowned floral designer and private caterer. Kate’s designs are sought after amongst Norfolk’s most discerning clients, both for their natural style and effortless country glamour, whether it’s a bouquet, funeral spray, or table piece for a wedding or dinner party. While her food focusses on working with the finest local, seasonal ingredients. A few mouth-watering recent creations include sharing platters of sea bream tartare, aubergine pastilla, salted chocolate tart with raspberry ice cream and edible flowers. 

With two young children at home and an ever-increasing demand for both flowers and food, the idea came about for the couple to grow their own special blooms. Buffy explains: “Kate was always going back and forth to buy Dutch flowers from the wholesaler, and I thought surely there must be something we can grow here on the farm? My mother-in-law suggested peonies. We did some research and started off with just a few, about seven years ago.” 

A wait of three years before a crop comes meant the concept was a slow burner, but it’s one that has now seen huge demand. “We got a couple of hundred plants over from Holland, mainly Sarah Bernhardt,” says Buffy. This full pink multi-layered bloom with its raspberry ripple ice cream scoop of dense petals is an ever-popular choice for bouquets. “Everybody goes mad over them – and they were the first ones we had in any number. After trying out different types over the years and seeing what worked, we started selling from the farm gate last year, with an amazing amount of success.” 

Peony Farm, Erpingham House Farm, Pictures: Brittany Woodman

Peonies growing at Erpingham House Farm - Credit: Brittany Woodman

A view over the peony plantings at Erpingham House Farm

A view over the peony plantings at Erpingham House Farm - Credit: Brittany Woodman

Buffy Wilcox at Erpingham House Farm

Buffy Wilcox at Erpingham House Farm - Credit: Brittany Woodman

So successful that The Countess of Wessex was recently pictured grinning with a bunch of the farm’s flowers at The Royal Windsor Flower Show. The enthusiasm for simple pleasures on the tail-end of Covid has been unwavering this year, says Buffy. “Last year it seemed like everyone needed to let off steam, and wanted to comfort themselves with a beautiful bunch of peonies. Of course we were concerned that this year would be different, but it’s been crazy. We’ve sold so many. It’s marvellous. And we’ve made a big thing of selling them at our farm gate.” 

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With the annual peony industry worth £550 million globally, and flowers and plants being harder to come by from our European neighbours, it’s clearly a good time to think of what you can grow at home, whatever the scale is. The Erpingham House Farm shop has a few different varieties, including one slightly smaller scented peony, Duchess of Nemours, which has a delicious smell much like Lily of the Valley and is extremely popular with weddings and events. Buffy has been delightfully surprised by the ongoing obsession with his flowers and now sells potted peonies, a plant that can last upwards of 100 years.  

It’s quite a change from the isolation of traditional farming, and it must be nice to see the customer receiving a farmed product with immediacy and positivity. Buffy agrees. ‘It’s great when the public come to the farm for something they want and you see the simple link between the production and customer, without any of the usual subsidising and involvement. It’s a real destination crop.’ 

The peonies are only available for five or six weeks of the year from late spring to early summer, so there is a tight timeline to grab a bunch.  

Next year the plan is to have open days as part of the NGS (National Garden Scheme) and to start mail-order flowers. It looks like the peonies at Erpingham House Farm will continue to attract travellers from far and wide, and build on a reputation as a destination stop for everyone’s favourite flower. 

Find Erpingham House Farm at NR11 7QD. It’s open 8am to 6pm, daily until the end of June.