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What to See

The Peony Garden's great strength is its stunning and extensive display of historic herbaceous peonies, typically from late May to mid June. The Peony Garden was opened to the public in 1927; visiting it in bloom has become an annual rite for many visitors. We are adding the long-desired tree peony collection, originally proposed in the 1920s as well as modern intersectional ('Itoh') peonies.

Above: fairies may be sighted - the Peony Garden is a magical place to enjoy each day. (Image from A Midsummer Night's Dream Shakespeare in the Arb production.)

Historic Herbaceous Peonies

The Nichols Arboretum Peony Garden is the largest public collection of historic (pre-1950) herbaceous peony cultivars in North America. We are rebuilding this historic garden to be an internationally significant, scientifically-documented and culturally interpreted living reference collection. When the revisions are completed, over 50% of the historic peonies will represent a broad array of American and Canadian peony breeders. The rest of the collection will be a deep treasury of the floral breeding by European peers, with separate beds for historic Chinsese, Japanese, and Korean selections.

Which beds: The historic herbaceous peonies are in the 27 beds that make the main grid of the peony garden. To find out which plant is in which bed, use our peony photo maps

Early morning and evening are when the peony fragrances are best.

Classic to Mid 20th Century Tree Peonies

Classic tree peonies from Asian cultures as well as 19th and 20th century American and European selections are being grouped on the slopes towards Laurel Ridge. We will be acquiring a few wild species - many at risk in their native habitats - to help us tell the the story of peonies and their conservation significance in the wild and as historic cultural objects.

Which beds: The tree peonies are in the stone-edged beds on the slopes at both ends of the main peony garden.

The tree peonies bloom several weeks before the herbaceous peonies (notice their beds in the background).


Intersectional (or Itoh) Peonies

Hybrids between herbaceous peonies and tree peonies have been sought for generations. The appeal is having the full range of intense colors, and the floral size from the tree peony parent, and the perennial growth and horticultural versatility of the herbaceous parent. So much potential! The first successful results were made by Mr. Toichi Itoh of Japan in 1948. He is reported to have made more than 2,000 failed crosses before achieving success. Unfortuantely, he died before seeing the first plants come to bloom.  Since the 1990s this group of peonies has many active plant breeders. Our selection focuses on Euro-American introductions directly from the breeders; we intend to include one of the rarely-seen but historic clones of Mr Itoh's original crosses.

Intersectional peonies are called this since each parent is from a different "section" of the genus Paeonia, but many people and peony growers call all the intersectional hybrids 'Itoh hybrids'. In the strictest sense, only the few plants from Mr. Itoh's work are Itoh hybrids.

Which beds: The intersectional peonies are only in the stone-edged beds flanking the stone staircase near the East (woodland) edge of the main peony garden.


Rejuvenating the Peony Garden for our Centennial - and beyond

You'll continue to see changes to the garden and adjacent areas as we rejuvenate it to tell the story of peonies - in nature and as perceived by diverse cultures. We're accomplishing this rejuvenation in the conceptual framework initiated in the 1920s when both herbaceous and tree peony collections were planned. We will retain the historic design of the main beds of herbaceous peonies but reorganize certain beds with themes.  Click here for the rejuvenation plan.

The changes you'll see in the 2016 season are linked here. The rejuvenation plan will be completed in time for our Centennial, with a major program planned for June 5th, 2022. Come see the progress each season until then!