Tony Kolenic, director of Matthaei Botanical Gardens at University of michigan
Dear Matthaei-Nichols community,

If you’re reading this post then, like me, you love the botanical gardens and arboretum and have a passionate interest in everything we do, from horticulture to student and faculty research to stewarding our national-level collections such as peonies or bonsai. You may also want to drop in and enjoy the conservatory or visit the outdoor display gardens.

And yet for over a year no one has been able to experience the Gaffield Children’s Garden, watch a Shakespeare in the Arb performance, or wander through the conservatory.

We hope that changes soon. In the meantime, however, I want to explain some of what’s happening here this spring and summer, what our plans are, and how—because of the ongoing pandemic—those plans may still change. This is a year where we’ve all learned to be flexible, for sure.

Peony Garden Update
One of the top questions we get is: Will the peony garden be open this year? The answer is yes. Even so, every visitor to the peony garden will be expected to mask up and follow the well-known distancing guidelines. We may also be faced with having to limit peony visits depending on crowd guidelines we receive from the university. As I write this, the state of Michigan leads the nation in COVID cases.

When Will We Reopen?
Another question we get a lot, and understandably: “When will the buildings and display gardens open, and why can’t the display gardens be open now, since they are outdoors?” We are making plans to reopen both indoors and outdoors. Here are the technicalities: according to university policy we may not open our indoor areas to the public if new cases in Washtenaw County exceed 70 per million, if there is a sustained 10% positivity rate for COVID-19, or if there are three consecutive days of +10% increase in cases of the virus. Until we fall below these numbers, we will not be able to welcome you indoors.

As for the outdoor garden spaces at Matthaei, we are working to reopen them, regardless of the indoor spaces. Please stay tuned. Indoors or out, our reopening plan includes offering scheduled visits to our members initially. After that, we will reopen to all others, also in a scheduled format.

2021 Calendar
Most of our events will look different this year. The three spring plant sales—Mother’s Day, Kitchen Favorites, and the peony sale—will be online only, with the sales offered first to our members. If you are not a member, I urge you join for a number of reasons, including access to our plant sales.

Shakespeare in the Arb is, sadly, canceled again this year. This was a very difficult decision. Last year—also canceled—would have been the 20th anniversary of Shakespeare in the Arb. So those special anniversary-celebration performances will have to wait until 2022. We just couldn’t risk having 200-plus audience members so close together at each performance for up to three hours at a time.

Most of our other spring-summer 2021 programming has been canceled as well—the family favorite Things with Wings, school tours, and all of our partner group monthly indoor meetings (Audubon Society, Sierra Club, for example) are off the calendar. Additionally, our volunteer program is suspended at least until fall.

“We are sorry” doesn’t quite cover it. Everyone at Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum wants nothing more than to open again to all of you. Please know that we are doing everything we can to make that happen. In the meantime, our website, social media, and newsletter contain a wealth of digital resources for you to enjoy, and the Arb and the trails at the botanical gardens remain open. Below you’ll find how to connect with those resources.

Thank you for understanding, and for your support.

Tony Kolenic, Director
University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum