Each spring, Nichols Arboretum at the University of Michigan boasts a spectacular display of peonies, drawing large crowds from all over the region.

But this spring, Bob Grese, director of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, is asking people to skip their annual visit because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The historic Nichols Arboretum Peony Garden has bloomed every spring for nearly 100 years.

“The celebration of the annual peony bloom in the arboretum, and the crowds that usually attend, will not happen this year,” he said. “All of us across the U-M campuses are feeling not only the impact of the pandemic on our lives but also the disappointment of having to cancel so many events.”

While it’s not possible to stop the peony plants from flowering, this year the garden will bloom to an empty house.

“I never imagined I’d be saying this to the thousands of visitors hoping to see the peonies: Please do not visit the garden this year,” Grese said. “We simply cannot have crowds of any size visiting. The risk to your health and others’ is too great.”

Grese points out that online content will help make up for the loss of in-person visits to the Peony Garden. 

“We’re ramping up efforts to get a lot of peony content online, both to our dedicated peony website and to the Matthaei-Nichols website,” he said.

“We’ve even pushed to publish a new book with U-M Press out in time for people to enjoy during the peony bloom season. The book is currently available from U-M Press and will soon be available for order online from our gift shop.”

Like local and county parks, Nichols Arboretum has remained open throughout the pandemic for visitors to walk, hike and enjoy the wellness benefits of nature. Vistors to any public outdoor area must practice physical distancing of at least 6 feet and follow state and local guidelines.

The Peony Garden began in 1922 with a gift of peonies from W.E. Upjohn, a U-M alumnus and peony aficionado. The garden has bloomed each year since.

Recently the garden began a multiyear renovation project aimed at transforming it into an internationally recognized reference collection, a conservation model for other historic cultivar collections, and a destination for peony lovers.