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Exciting News About Historic Peonies

Associate Curator of the University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Garden and Nichols Arboretum, David Michener and Collection & Natural Area Specialist Carmen Leskoviansky spoke about my favorite topic at the Porter County Master Gardener Association 9th Annual Gardening Show. (Phew! I hope you got past that first sentence - it will get better, I promise!)

Nichols Arboretum Historical Peony Garden - 2010
The project to restore a garden created in the 1920s has been in the works for the past several years. Results certainly won't be immediate. (The latest restoration of the Sistine Chapel ceiling took 14 years, after all.) The garden I'm talking about is the historic peony collection at Nichols Arboretum in Ann Arbor.

Just to give some perspective, out of the 891 spots in the garden, which was designed by A. Tealdi in the 1920s, 650 are currently occupied by peony plants. The garden of peonies was a gift from Dr. W. L. Upjohn of Upjohn Pharmaceuticals in Kalamazoo, MI early in the 20th century.

Some of the peonies haven't been identified, as the garden went through decades of neglect. Although most of the peonies did fine in spite of it all, some did not. The original donations of peonies came from breeders throughout the world, the most recent bred and introduced from 1926-1950. In the passage of time, a small percentage of plants have lost their identities. Or, more accurately, the peonies know who they are but are keeping mum. Even the experts are flummoxed over which is what.
My first visit to the gardens was in 2008, and it's where I met and fell in love with varieties I'd never heard of and some I still can't find in the trade.

'Lois Kelsey' is a lactiflora with an unusual look. Happily I've found it and planted it in my garden.

At the right in the background of the photo above, you'll see a woman holding a little white dog while a man snaps a photo. While the woman isn't me, it certainly makes me realize I'm not the only one who is passionate about dogs and peonies!