U-M’s historic peony garden in Nichols Arboretum is open this year

May 20, 2021
Contact: Sydney Hawkins sydhawk@umich.edu,
Joe Mooney jfmooney@umich.edu

The entrance to the University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens, located at 1800 N. Dixboro Rd. in Ann Arbor. Image credit: Scott Soderberg/Michigan Photography

Following a pandemic year in which visitors were asked to stay away, the nearly century-old peony garden in the University of Michigan’s Nichols Arboretum is open and getting ready to bloom.

Visitors come from all over Michigan and surrounding states to see the University of Michigan's historic peony garden at Nichols Arboretum. The garden is the largest collection of heirloom peonies in North America. Image credit: Scott Soderberg/Michigan Photography.

Visitors come from all over Michigan and surrounding states to see the University of Michigan’s historic peony garden at Nichols Arboretum. The garden is the largest collection of heirloom peonies in North America. Image credit: Scott Soderberg/Michigan Photography.

The garden, begun in 1922 with a gift of peony plants from U-M alumnus W.E. Upjohn, celebrates its 99th year of bloom from about Memorial Day through mid-June, weather depending.

The garden’s nearly 800 plants produce up to 10,000 flowers at peak bloom. It’s believed to be the largest collection of heirloom herbaceous peonies in North America.

Recent plantings of tree peonies bloom earlier than the herbaceous varieties, extending the blooming season another two to three weeks. A multiyear renovation effort is nearly complete as the peony garden readies for its centennial celebration in 2022.

The University of Michigan's peony garden at Nichols Arboretum contains up to 800 plants that produce as many as 10,000 blossoms at peak bloom. Image credit: Scott Soderberg/Michigan Photography.

The University of Michigan’s peony garden at Nichols Arboretum contains up to 800 plants that produce as many as 10,000 blossoms at peak bloom. Image credit: Scott Soderberg/Michigan Photography.

With many other 2021 university and botanical garden events on hold, the peony garden remains the focus of attention in Nichols Arboretum this spring. Shakespeare in the Arb is canceled—now for the second year in a row.

“This was a very difficult decision,” said Tony Kolenic, the new director of Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum, noting that the 2020 season would have been the 20th anniversary of Shakespeare in the Arb. “We just couldn’t risk having 200-plus audience members so close together at each performance for up to three hours at a time.”

Even with the recent changes to mask guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, visitors to the peony garden must still follow the U-M’s COVID-19 policies. Those policies specifically require face coverings and distancing when outdoors in gatherings of more than 100 people.

Tree peonies have woody stems and usually bloom two to three weeks before the herbaceous peonies. The flowers’ delicate, papery petals come in a range of colors such as yellow, purple, and apricot. Image credit: Michele Yanga/University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum.

Tree peonies have woody stems and usually bloom two to three weeks before the herbaceous peonies. The flowers’ delicate, papery petals come in a range of colors such as yellow, purple, and apricot. Image credit: Michele Yanga/University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum.

“We still recommend carrying your mask with you to the Arb and, of course, distancing when needed as the number of people visiting the peony garden ebbs and flows throughout the day,” Kolenic said.

The Arb is located near the U-M hospital on central campus and is part of the university’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum. At both the botanical gardens and arboretum, the trails and natural areas are open daily from sunrise to sunset.

The buildings and display gardens at Matthaei are currently closed to the public but plans are underway to reopen those spaces. Those plans in large part depend on the direction of the pandemic. The teaching and research spaces at both locations remain open to U-M faculty and students.