By Sarah Gizzi

The Nature Academy is focused on training a new generation of environmental leaders in sustainability, conservation, and ecological restoration. As part of the Nature Academy program, each intern writes a blog post and develops a project. The project provides an opportunity to take on responsibility in an area of interest, contribute to the goals of their team, and develop a skill or area of knowledge that can be added to the intern’s portfolio. The post may reflect the project or be a nature-related topic of personal interest to the intern.

Each year, from mid-May to July, we field a plethora of questions from people visiting the Nichols Arboretum Peony Garden. While some of these questions are for advice (“I have a peony at home and it’s not blooming. What am I doing wrong?”), or about the ants (No, the ants do not cause the peonies to bloom), the most common questions we get are about the individual peonies themselves.  

Visitors are very curious about where our peonies come from and how long we’ve had them. I’ve seen people get excited after hearing that some of our peonies were planted in 1922—when they were donated to the university by Dr. W.E. Upjohn—and are still in their original locations. As Matthaei-Nichols staff we are, of course, always happy to answer people’s questions and point them in the direction of peonies with an interesting history or a great photo opportunity (like the peony Faith Fenton, which stands a remarkable 5 feet tall!). Wouldn’t it be wonderful, however, if the people who visit the garden could have all of this information right at their fingertips?

Peony Faith Fenton

Faith Fenton, the tallest peony in the garden, is located in bed 22 and is a favorite spot for selfies—partly because she’s so tall.


Ants collect the sap that the peony bud exudes. But they’re not part of the flower-opening process.

Over the last year I created an online GIS (geographic information system) map of the garden with the help of fellow interns Daniel Wu and Julia Lawson. While this map is valuable to the staff, as it allows us to keep a record of all peonies in the garden, it is not easily accessed by the public. Even if a visitor is able to access the map, it is not exactly user friendly– especially not on a mobile device!  The data contained in this map is still useful, however. 

Using a different aspect of the ArcGIS program, I created a web application that will allow visitors to view more in depth information on each peony. While using the application, visitors will be able to select individual peonies they’re interested in—simply click or tap on the dot that corresponds to the peony you want to see and a pop-up displaying background information appears. Users can also search for specific peony cultivars and bed numbers, and can narrow the search to include roses and/or herbaceous, tree, and itoh peonies. 

Peony garden map

A GIS map of the Peony Garden, which contains a data point for each individual peony.

This web application is designed to be easily accessed from our website and the layout will automatically adapt to the device being used, meaning this application will look just as good—and work just as well—on a smart phone as a desktop computer. As visitors view each peony they will be able to learn facts such as cultivar name, country of origin, breeder, and the year it was planted in our garden, as well as a picture of that specific peony. Once finished, visitors will be able to find the application on our website. We hope that everyone will get the chance to visit the peony garden next season while it’s in bloom and enjoy this special treat!

Sarah Gizzi