Two Great Locations, One Organization
This June, we asked Matthaei-Nichols friends and followers to join us for #joyofpeonies, our community appreciation for all things peony-related.
This virtual peony potluck party invited guests to contribute peony photos or stories to share, neighbor to neighbor. Then we posted the stories and photos on our social media and enews. 
We received nearly 100 submissions. And we promised to post the gallery of photos later in the summer. Here it is! We’ve also included some selected stories that capture the peony mood perfectly. If you submitted a photo to us and don’t see it here, please email the photo to: mbgna-peonygarden@umich.edu and we’ll add it to the gallery.
Enjoy! And thanks again to everyone who participated. 

Scroll down for peony stories

Peony stories from our community:

A Rosevilee pottery vase depicting peonies from Bob Grese, who got it from his parents.

From Matthaei-Nichols retired director Bob Grese:During World War II, the American art pottery company Roseville Pottery (1892-1954) produced a series of household pieces featuring peony flowers. Pieces in the “Peony” line included teapots, sugar and creamers, compotes, bookends, ashtrays, various bowls, cornucopias, and vases such as the one featured here. This vase was one of two given to my parents as a wedding present. As happened with so many of things in my family of 11 kids–one of the two broke somewhere along the way. I remember thinking it was special each time I had to dust the shelves where it sat. It came to live with me after my Mom died and my Dad moved into a smaller place. I continue to value it as a link to my parents.

Martha Johnson: “Peonies combine all the best of the garden – color, form, aroma and memories.”

From Martha Johnson: “Peonies combine all the best of the garden – color, form, aroma and memories. My favorite part of gardening is sharing and peonies allow so much sharing. This ‘past-its-prime’ red peony plant is from my grandmother’s garden in Kentucky. We called it the Mothers’ Day peony because that is when it bloomed for her. Here we are happy to call it the Memorial Day peony. It is growing in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and here, thanks to the wonder of sharing. I would estimate that it is at least 70 years old.”

Peonies by Karen Hockley

From Karen Hockley: “We have a family tradition where we spend some time with the peonies in the Nichols Arboretum Peony Garden taking end-of-school pictures. This year as the peony garden sits empty of such visits, we hit a milestone in our house, a graduation. This year school pictures will be a bit different, no lovely flowers in the background but our love for the peony garden remains. Not only do I take end-of-school pictures of my three children but it also gives me free time to roam through the gardens and take pictures of these magnificent flowers. As you can tell I’m one for texture and my family and I are counting down the days till next year.”

Duane Kirking’s Great Grandma’s peony

From Duane Kirking: “The peony plant in my photo is over 130 years old. It was a gift from friends in Ohio to my great-grandparents when they started our family’s farm in Wisconsin in 1887. The source of this information is my grandmother who was born on the farm 130 years ago in 1890 and spent most of her life there. When the farm was finally sold in 2016, I dug up one of the several peonies and brought it back to Ann Arbor where it has done well. It is always the earliest of our peonies to bloom and, as you can see, even the chicken likes to smell it.”

Peonies from Linda Selwa

From Linda Selwa: “These two pictures are Sarah Bernhardt peonies I bought at the peony garden sale a few years ago. 

“I lost my father a few years ago, and when he was getting chemo and radiation he always stopped at the Arb to rest and reflect. When we lost him, we paid for a bench in his honor near the peony garden. I work at the hospital and his bench is where I go when I think of him or need his counsel.  

“This year, the garden is closed, and it is when I see my peonies that I am reminded of his generosity and gentleness.  I thought spring would never come again when he was gone, but it comes every year. Beauty is always here, giving us the energy and inspiration to open our hearts. 

“Thank you for letting us share our images.”

More peony stories:

Artist Emily Trcalek:
“Peonies inspire much of my work. I love the way they dance on the page and petals flow and form in such a beautiful, elegant movement.”
Emily Schildhouse:
“The peony gardens are my happy place and favorite flower to photograph.”
Rochelle Balkam:
“Joy and beauty in the time of covid.”
Brad Switzer:
“What other flower rivals the exquisiteness of the peony? When peonies bloom, love blooms. Romance blooms. Happiness blooms.”
Nicole Frisbee:
“The peony garden at Nichols Arb has brought me joy to visit since I was a student at U of M completing my undergraduate and graduate programs. When I became a new mother in 2016 to my daughter, Victoria, I brought her to the peony garden and have tried to make it a yearly tradition for us. I was very sad we had to miss out this year, though I agree with the reason. We planted our own peony bushes this year and are excited for them to bloom! The peony garden has been a special experience to share with my daughter which brings me so much joy.”
Jim Abelson:
“I had never met a peony, knowingly, before buying my Burns Park home in 1990.  There was a gorgeous red/pink deciduous peony planted at the southwest corner of the house that blew my mind when I first saw it bloom.  There was also a small, struggling  white peony in a shady corner of the back yard.  In 2010, we did a major renovation, and I moved my prized pink peony to a safer, deeper corner of the back yard where it would not be too disturbed by all the construction.  A few years before, close friends from NY and Boston bought a bunch of seeds from China and started growing Rockii tree peonies out east and they had just given us a Rockii seedling to care for when the construction started.  I put it out back with the other peony for safe keeping, and essentially did not see either plant for almost a year as the construction trailer blocked my view and access to that part of the yard.  When the work was all done, I was greatly relieved to find both plants doing just fine.  My friends taught me how to divide and transplant, and I began populating various parts of our small yard with “offspring” of the pink deciduous peony, and I gave the Rockii a place of honor in front.  The all thrived!  Two years ago, I finally had some compassion for the puny little white peony, which no longer flowered as other growth had buried it in shade, and moved it to a better spot with its now proliferating brethren.  This year, on June 3, the big original bush was past its prime, but the rest were in their full glory, and I counted 138 flowers on 7 bushes in my small Burns Park yard.  All of the plants (but not quite all of the flowers) are captured in the attached photos.  It was a glorious day!  All of the pink ones came from the original bush that I found in the yard of the house I bought in 1990.  My guess is that the owner of the house may well have gotten the original bush from a Nichols/Matthei peony sale.  The prior owners had lived in this house from 1950 to 1990, so I have no idea when it might have been planted.
“I am not really much of a gardener, but these peonies sure have brought me lots of joy!   I love yours, also, but, I must admit, I love mine more! The Rockii blooms earlier, and I will send you a picture of that separately.  Of the hundreds of Rockii my friends have raised in Massachusetts, this one has been the most prolific, though it only gave us 10 flowers this year (last year it produced 14).”
Hilary Cohen:
“My garden is a small, typical Burns Park garden. The peonies all come from Old House Gardens and have been in the garden for many years.”
Marieka Kaye:
“Peonies are my favorite flowers, and visiting this garden in Ann Arbor has been a great joy since moving here 7 years ago. It transports us to a different space, where things are sweet and magical. It allows us to escape our daily struggles and worries, and helps us focus on the wonder of nature.”
Caroline Altomare:
“I grew up in California.  My mother and her sisters, my Aunts Nancy and Laurie, grew up in Illinois.  All the time I grew up I would hear my Aunt Laurie say how much she loved Peonies.  In California, we had an abundance of flora, so I listened with the mild eye rolling of a young girl.  ‘What’s so great about Peonies?’, I’d think.
“Fast forward to my moving to Maryland in 1996.  My new best friend had a yard filled with peonies.  That first spring I was struck dumb.  Oh.my.God……
“The beauty, the fragrance, the achingly short life. I was head over heels in love.
“The next spring, I bought three crowns, one for each sister, and planted them in my garden. It took a couple of years til I got blooms, but there they were. I named them Barbara, Laurie and Nancy.
“I have since moved several times, but still love love love them. In my current house in A2 I have six plants. Three I purchased to replicate the three Sisters. I look forward to touring the Gardens next year!”
Lauren Paton:
“My father, Mike Sackey of Warren, MI, is a talented artist and formal floral designer. Over the years he has created a series of gorgeous flower paintings. During the pandemic, he has spent his extra time working on this beautiful peony painting for me and I will treasure it!”
Rebecca Mills:
“Walking my neighborhood. Like a lush peony garden stroll.”
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