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Peaking Peonies


June in the Mohawk Valley means strawberries, Farmers’ Markets and at Hamilton College – scores of blooming, lush and colorful peonies. From the brilliantly crimson Alexander Woollcott to the aptly named Daffodil, the lush flowers are flourishing in Hamilton’s Grant Garden, behind Elihu Root House. 

The 19 herbaceous and 49 Saunders’ tree peonies are in bloom in Hamilton’s Grant Garden, east of the Root Glen's hemlock enclosure, behind Elihu Root House. Professor of Biology Emeritus Ernest Williams has created Peony Phenology, a chart that outlines the approximate flowering dates for the 68 varieties. Many will be peaking in the next two weeks.

 Professor of Chemistry A.P. Saunders hybridized the peonies from 1920 to 1940 on College Hill.  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. The pencil sketch of the original garden plan that Root drew on U.S. Senate stationery in 1895 is in the pavilion near the Norway spruce.

The Grant Garden was renovated in 1996 to become a display garden for the Saunders’ tree peonies. 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.

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