By Sarah Gizzi

Each intern in the Nature Academy internship program at Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum chooses a summer project to research and report on. The project culminates in a poster displayed in Matthaei’s public indoor spaces. Interns also write a blog post about their project concept or the research they’ve conducted.

Peony bed 11 map

Bed 11 has been filled, but the map online has not been updated with names or pictures.

The Nichols Arboretum Peony Garden draws impressive crowds from mid-May to mid-June. The hundreds of plants inhabiting the space reach full bloom and with the crowds come an onslaught of questions: How old are the peonies? What is this one called? Are any of the original plants still here? Each season, signs are posted in front of each bed to provide the names and a picture of each cultivar, but these signs don’t give any information beyond that. Additionally, some of the signs have yet to be updated with new arrivals.

In order to keep everything up to date and easily accessible, I have joined forces with fellow Nature Academy intern Julia Rose Lawson, who works in the curation department at Matthae-Nichols to create a comprehensive map of the peony garden using a geographic information system (GIS). During the bloom season, Julia took the time to take stunning pictures of each cultivar, while I, with the help of GIS Intern Daniel Wu, created a GIS map to load the data into. Each point on the map represents a plant, with different colored points to differentiate between the three kinds of peonies planted in the Arb—tree peonies, Itoh peonies, and herbaceous peonies—and the roses that grow near the peony garden. Due to the low GPS accuracy when using the ArcGIS Collector app, each point has to be hand placed on the map—that’s over 800 points! This was one of the most time-consuming parts of the project. After all of the points were placed, I went searching through the map records of the peony garden to find when each peony was planted. Each point includes the following data: cultivar name, bed location, year planted, breeder, country of origin, flower form, and a picture. The map will contain a point for each plant in the garden.

Peony mapping

The map will contain a point for each plant in the garden.

Paeonia 'Apple Blossom'

Paeonia ‘Apple Blossom’

Looking to the future, it is my plan to use this map to create an augmented-reality map of the peony garden using the app AuGeo. This would allow visitors to use the cameras on their phones to view information about each peony. All they would need to do is point their camera at a plant and the information will pop up on the screen. Since everybody’s on their phones anyway, why not educate them at the same time?

Sarah Gizzi is working this summer as the Peony Garden intern and as a summer caretaker in Nichols Arboretum. She will be starting her fifth year at the University of Michigan and is majoring in ecology, evolution, and biodiversity. This is Sarah’s third year as the Peony Garden intern and she is excited to once again see the joy on people’s faces when they see the garden in full bloom. The Peony Garden is an iconic legacy of Dr. W. E. Upjohn, founder of the Upjohn Pharmaceutical Company in Kalamazoo, Michigan. His generous gift of peonies in 1922 was the founding event in the multi-year project that culminated in the Peony Garden opening to the public in 1927. Sarah’s internship was made possible by gifts from members of Dr. W. E. Upjohn’s family to maintain the University of Michigan Nichols Arboretum Peony Garden and to make relevant information available to peony lovers and growers around the world.

Sarah Gizzi