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Peony Season in the Grant Garden

The Saunders' Tree Peonies are in Bloom

By Sharon Rippey 315-859-4672  |  Contact Sharon Rippey 315-859-4672
Posted June 4, 2003
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The Saunders' tree peonies are in bloom in Hamilton's Grant Garden. Professor of Chemistry A.P. Saunders hybridized the peonies in the early- to mid-1900s.  His work with tree peonies -- which resulted in 73 named varieties -- was a notable achievement. His fame was established especially with hybridizing the yellow tree peony.

The Grant Garden was created by Elihu Root for his daughter, Edith Root, east of the Root Glen's hemlock enclosure with its beautiful perennial borders. You can see the pencil sketch of the original garden plan, that Root drew on U.S. Senate stationery in 1895, in the pavilion near the Norway spruce. The spruce is the largest in America -- you can't miss it!

The Grant Garden was renovated in 1996 to become a display garden for the Saunders' tree peonies.  Here, with the help of the American Peony Society, Hamilton has collected and displayed as many of the remaining Saunders' tree peonies as can be recovered. The Saunders tree peony collection was shipped to Dr. David Reath in the sixties. Although most of the crates arrived, some were lost in transit. Reath planted the Saunders collection and is Hamilton's current supplier, with only four more varieties available. Of the 73 known types of peonies, Hamilton now has recovered 44. (The remaining 30 will need to be donated from private gardens or from alternate suppliers.) Individual peony plants range in price from $25 to $300.


Planting tree peonies: In the fall, the horticulture staff carefully prepare the beds for the peonies with a mixture of composted manure and organic fertilizer before digging the holes and generously applying bone meal. Dan Rouillier, horticulture foreperson, explains that peonies prefer low nitrogen and high phosphorous. After identifying good "eyes," the peonies are planted two inches below the grade level. Roullier recommends in colder climate like upstate New York that plants be given a three-inch bark mulch.

Hamilton is beginning to add herbaceous peonies as well. These will be planted in the beds at the bottom of the stone "horseshoe."


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