It might be their brilliant colors, impressive size, or beautiful fragrance but like bees, I’m drawn to peonies in spring.
At the Peony Garden at Rockefeller State Park Preserve, the huge blossoms of these magnificent perennials generally burst out between the end of April and beginning of June. They happen to be in full bloom right now, and we feel blessed that they are just a few miles from our home in Pleasantville (Westchester County), New York.
Hundreds of these woody shrubs (actually called tree peonies)are covered with vibrant shades of pink, fuchsia, lavender, red and white. They welcome visitors at the gatehouse entrance to the Rockefeller State Park Preserve.
A little history about this gift from Japan
The peonies were a unique gift to America.
After 9/11, the Shimane Prefecture in Japan wanted to find a way to express their solidarity with the United States. In 2002, they sent 500 peonies, considered Japan’s most noble of flowers, from a tiny town (Yatsuka Cho) in the prefecture as a show of healing and compassion.
As part of the Gateway Preserve Project, the nonprofit Friends of Rockefeller State Park Preserve initiated the groundwork and digging necessary to house the generous gift. The prefecture even sent Japanese gardeners to New York to train the park staff on how to plant and care for the precious shrubs.
The commemorative plaque at the entrance to the Peony Garden reads in part:
We have been raising peonies in our town since the eighteenth century and it is now the representative flower of Shimane Prefecture. These flowers bring us happiness and comfort in times of trouble. We hope that these peonies, carefully raised by the producers in our town, can also be loved by and bring peace of mind to the people of the United States.
The additional costs of the effort have been underwritten by the Friends’ Board of Directors, the Rockefeller Family, the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of New York, and individual donors.
Peter Iskendarian, the Preserve Manager, has been involved with the Peony Garden since 2004. “The work really starts before the leaves even appear,” he says. Pruning, fertilizing, mulching and special care for each individual peony almost ensures a spectacular display.”
What you’ll see at the Peony Garden
As the season approaches, large buds begin to emerge from the plants with just a tinge of the intense colors to come. Blink: and you might miss the time-limited appearance of the flowers.
Although the peony garden and its promise of spring are always lovely, the serene garden feels especially healing and meaningful this year, with more shots in arms and infection rates declining.
There’s enough space in the Gateway Garden to wander around the blossoms and view them up close. Few can resist photographing (and sharing) the treasured memories.
Like the rest of the park, the outdoor peony garden feels like a safe place, even amidst a pandemic. Face coverings are required, social distancing measures are adhered to, and a maximum of 20 people are permitted to enter the garden at one time. As a courtesy, guests are asked to limit their visit to 15 minutes.
While you’re at the Rockefeller State Park Preserve, take the 1.2-mile walk on the historic carriage roads around Swan Lake or explore other trails on the 1700+ acre grounds. The trees are in full bloom, wildflowers are popping up, and the turtles are hatching. You might even spot a heron or waterfowl.
Those who want to learn more about these fantastic peonies and their history can participate in the Peony Celebration, an annual fundraiser that will be held on Zoom this year on May 20, 2021, when the blossoms are at their peak.
- Read about different types of peonies and peony blossoms.
- More information about Rockefeller State Park Preserve.
IF YOU GO
Rockefeller State Park Preserve is:
- Dog-friendly (with a leash)
- No bikes, alcohol or picnicking
- Fishing with license
- Parking for a fee (waived for seniors on weekdays)
- Free trail maps available on site
The entrance to the preserve is off Route 117 (Phelps Way) and is located about 30 miles north of Manhattan.
All photo credits: Irene & Jerome Levine
SAVE TO PINTEREST!!