Bursting with color, the peonies stand tall in their rows, blooming under the sun. The 90th anniversary of the Nichols Arboretum Peony Festival came early this year as the March weather warmed the flowers and sped up the blooming time.

Nichols Arboretum Peony Festival

Through June 5, 10:30 – 4:30 p.m. daily
Nichols Arboretum

“The festival really centers on the peony itself and the bloom time of the garden,” said Joseph Mooney, Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum marketing & communications manager. “This year it’s been crazy because March was so warm and the peonies actually moved the festival date up from early June to the middle of May.”

Peonies are historically cool-climate flowers. Native to Europe and Asia, they captured the interest of breeders and now have a long-standing history of varied breeding. Combining and cross-pollinating different flowers allowed the breeders to create newly colored and structured buds.

Focusing on the inimitable flower, the Peony Garden in Nichols Arboretum will be going through a renovation, allowing for the flowers to get the attention and awareness they once had.

“The garden is undergoing a multi-year renovation during which we’re bringing in advisors and taking care of the plants to make sure they survive, seeing if they have various diseases,” Mooney said.

Donated by Dr. W. E. Upjohn of the Upjohn Pharmaceutical Company in 1922, the Peony Garden features more than 270 historic buds and some that are still alive from their original ’20s planting.

Visitors will be able to walk from flower bed to flower bed, discovering various forms and types of peonies in the process.

“People can learn about peony form, names, where they’re from and what importance they have in not just European and American culture, but also that they’re very important in the asian culture, literature and art,” Mooney said. “Since the garden is an antique variety, people can also learn about the top-ranked peonies and why they were champions and the prices people have paid for (them) in the past.”

Along with the flower history, people can enjoy a variety of events held in honor of the peony blooming season. Artworks and photographs are on display in the Reading Center of Nichols Arboretum, featuring local artists.

A concert is also scheduled for Wednesday, with local singers celebrating the various historical connotations of peonies in the Chinese culture.

“There will be a concert of Chinese flower songs,” Mooney said. “A series of Chinese traditional, contemporary and modern songs about flowers and their roles in Chinese culture, and they’re going to be sung in Chinese.”

The garden is home to the largest collection of heirloom peonies in North America and the festival celebrates these flowers for a month every year. Despite time changes and blooming set-backs, the festival’s focus has always stayed on the flowers.

“It’s a celebration of the guest of honor, the main event, the peonys themselves,” Mooney added. “It usually lasts for a month, so we encourage everyone to come out and see this incredible garden.”

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