Historic Nichols Arboretum peony garden is open this year

May 20, 2021  //  FOUND IN: News
A green tree with purple peony flowers blooming.
Tree peonies have woody stems and usually bloom two to three weeks before the herbaceous peonies, extending the bloom season of the peony garden significantly. (Photo by Michele Yanga)

Following a pandemic year in which visitors were asked to stay away, the nearly 100-year-old peony garden in Nichols Arboretum is open to the public and getting ready to bloom.

The garden, begun in 1922 with a gift of peony plants from University of Michigan alumnus W. E. Upjohn, will celebrate its 99th year of blooming from approximately Memorial Day through mid-June, weather depending.

The garden’s nearly 800 plants produce up to 10,000 flowers at peak bloom. It is 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.

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 has been canceled for the second year in a row.

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

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 follow U-M’s COVID-19 policies, Kolenic said.

Those policies specifically require face coverings and distancing when outdoors in gatherings of more than 100 people.

“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 main medical 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.