Peonies in bloom
Each spring, eager visitors make a special trek through our gardens just to view our peony collection. Here are a few beauties that you’ll see:
The peony collection is one of the earliest features of the Dubuque Arboretum & Botanical Gardens. Most of the plants were donated by Klehm Nursery in 1983-84, and the majority are still original plants, since peonies can live 25-50 years, or even longer.
Everyone has a favorite from our peony collection, which consists of about 70 named cultivars and is recognized by the American Peony Society. Some of the plants are rare, and many of them have won awards over the years.
Viewing the Peonies
The peony collection is primarily displayed in five rectangular beds, bordered with decorative edging, a new design that allows visitors to walk among the blooms and see them up close. Memorial Day weekend is the time traditionally recommended for viewing our peonies. Some will bloom earlier, and others a little later, depending on the specific plant. Also, weather conditions in any particular year may affect bloom time.
The scientific name of these cultivars is Paeonia lactiflora, and they are “herbaceous” types, meaning that they die back in the fall and send up new shoots in the spring. The cultivar names are intriguing, ranging from ‘Bridal Icing’ and ‘Raspberry Sundae’ to ‘President Lincoln’ and ‘Mr. Ed.’ Each name appears on a stake next to the plant, so that any visitor who takes a fancy to a particular flower should be able to obtain it from a nursery or website that offers peony tubers.
Other Varieties to See in Our Gardens
In addition to the main collection, peonies are grown in other areas of the Dubuque Arboretum & Botanical Gardens. Five varieties of tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa) can be found in the Japanese Garden: ‘Leda,’ ‘Hephestos’, ‘Ariadne,’ ‘Golden Hind,’ and ‘Alhambra.’ The leaves of tree peonies drop in the fall, but the woody stems stay intact over the winter. ‘Peace Lotus,’ a rockii peony, is also located in the Japanese Garden.
To the left of the Herb Garden is a row of intersectional peonies, which are crosses between herbaceous and tree peonies. Intersectional peony varieties on display are ‘First Arrival,’ ‘Morning Lilac,’ ‘Pastel Splendor,’ ‘Cora Louise,’ and ‘Hillary.’ At the end of the row is a rock garden peony, ‘Memorial Gem.’
Assorted individual peonies also appear in some of the perennial beds.
[Article credit: Kennie Harris | Charlotte Schope]
Interested in creating your own peony collection?
P. Allen Smith shows how to plant these exciting flowers:
Learn even more about growing peonies in our video tutorial section.