The Peony Garden Initiative Blog

Welcome to the inaugural website for the University of Michigan’s Peony Garden Initiative!

Since 2008 a diverse team of staff, volunteers, advisors, and donors has been working under the leadership of Bob Grese, Director, to revitalize our historic peony collection that was established in 1922.

We’re rebuilding our historic Peony Garden as an internationally recognized living reference collection with a focus on Paeonia lactiflora cultivars from the early 1800s up to 1950. We’re also establishing a tree peony collection as was envisioned in the 1920s. Our focus for the tree peonies is culturally significant selections from Asia, Europe, and North America. We are also adding intersectional selections (crosses between herbaceous and tree peonies) as well as wild species. This deep collection will enable us to present the story of peonies and their conservation needs.

Our Peony Garden has space for nearly 800 herbaceous peonies in their original and now historic garden design and several score of tree peonies in a newly designed area. When in bloom, the herbaceous peonies are one of the great delights of Ann Arbor. Thousands of people visit the garden - many more than we can meet and guide in person. This website is intended to help visitors find out about peonies - here in our peony garden, around the country, and ultimately the world.

Our objectives with this website are to help visitors:

  • find plants in our garden;
  • confirm what they are seeing with photographs taken from the plants here in the garden;
  • find authoritative information. (By authoritative we mean the ‘gold standard’ - not only is it correct, but it is confirmed and documented by internationally recognized experts.); 
  • appreciate historic gardens and historically significant plant selections, even if they are not currently popular;
  • find links to leading organizations and institutions related to peonies and historic garden conservation;
  • understand and enjoy peonies from diverse perspectives.

 

As you explore the site take some ‘test drives’ to see what is available. Click on buttons, explore the links, and let us know what you like, what’s missing, as well as what needs improvement. Please blog your comments or email them to mbgna.curator@umich.edu. We are intentionally aiming this site at three audiences: the general public, peony enthusiasts, and specialists. The specialists range from peony experts to historic garden preservationists.

Our Peony Garden is a founding member of a peony consortium in the North American Plant Collection Consortium of the American Public Garden Association. Our website is designed to hold records and pictures of the cultivars held by other participating peony gardens so that a web visitor can find out about peonies at any of the participating institutions. Watch for progress in the months and years ahead as we build the consortium with the Scott Arboretum!

Many visitors want to know where to purchase our plants. A great place to begin is with the links in this website. Unfortunately, many of our cultivars are believed to be ‘commercially extinct’ and currently unavailable anywhere. Please note that as a public agency the University of Michigan does not endorse commercial vendors, suppliers, or services. 

Last, but not least, is a salute to the many who have brought the Peony Garden Initiative to this threshold. Scores of individuals as well as several philanthropists and foundations have made this project possible. Since 2008 staff and volunteers have toiled thousands of hours with planning, horticultural tasks, photographic duties, and data entry. Work-study and museum-studies students have focused on specific project facets. Advisors from across the United States and Canada have been hosted on site during peak bloom to contribute hundreds of hours of horticultural and identification expertise on a plant-by-plant basis year after year. Programmatic collaborators within the University of Michigan that have helped support peony-related programs include the Center for Chinese Studies, The Confucius Center, the International Center, and the University of Michigan Museum of Art. We specifically thank Ian and Sally Bund, Philip and Kathleen Power, the Porter Family Foundation, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust for their essential financial support.

Come and visit - in bloom and virtually!

David
Dr. David C. Michener
Associate Curator

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Matthaei-Nichols peony herbacious

About the Author

Dr. David C. Michener

Dr. David C. Michener is the curator at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum. Contact him directly at mbgna.curator@umich.edu