Arts & Leisure

Judith’s Garden: Peonies and more

BEAUTIFUL PEONIES AT Cady’s Falls Botanical Garden in Morrisville. Photo by Dick Conrad

Peonies surely deserve the title of “June Garden Queens!”

With huge blooms, often measuring six inches and more across, in colors from the deepest crimson to creamy white — and even some that are buttery yellow — peonies are a delight to behold.

Peonies are long-lived perennials which are best planted in late August or early September. But June is the perfect time to see them in bloom and consider which of the hundreds of cultivars available you might want to add to your own garden.

June is also when some azaleas and rhododendrons are still in bloom, so again this is a great opportunity to see some of the choices available to Vermont gardeners.

And, of course, after a full year of staying home and being abundantly cautious, restrictions about going to different places are gradually being relaxed — making this is the perfect time to take an unhurried walk around some beautiful gardens.

So, with this in mind, let me share with you three of my favorite destinations, each totally unique and right here in our lovely state, where you can stroll at leisure and rejoice in the wonderful flowers of June.


Over the years Dick and I have enjoyed many visits to Hildene (just south of Manchester, Vt.) Around 1900 Robert Todd Lincoln (the only child of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln to lived to maturity) and his wife, Mary Harlan Lincoln, built this beautiful Georgian Revival style house as their summer home.

Then in 1908, as a gift to her mother, their daughter, Jessie Lincoln, created a fantastic design, complete with plant lists, for an enormous formal garden to be situated directly behind the house.

She wanted this garden, in its entirety, to symbolize a huge Gothic stained-glass window, like those she had seen in European cathedrals. The individual pieces of stained glass were to be represented by colorful perennial flowers in many individual beds. And each bed was to be surrounded by a low privet hedge, evoking the pieces of leading that held these windows together.

Jesse and her father then worked together to implement the beautiful garden that we still enjoy today — including the inception of the spectacular peony displays that grace the garden each June.

Records indicate that, as early as 1905, a box of “peony roots” arrived from Paris at the Lincoln home, which Jesse then incorporated into her design. Research also shows that some of the peonies flourishing at Hildene today are descended from those original roots — leading the prestigious American Peony Society to designate two previously unidentified peonies growing on the estate as “Jesse Lincoln” and “Hildene.”

After strolling around the gardens yourself, you might also enjoy taking one of the garden tours — led by Andrea Luchini, Hildene horticulturist — around the historic garden, the cutting and kitchen gardens, as well as the recently planted native plant pollinator and butterfly gardens. Questions are always welcomed.

Each tour, by reservation only, is for a family or pod of up to six people. Tours will be offered between June 7-Oct. 15, on Mondays from 11 a.m. to noon, and on Fridays from 2-3 p.m. To make your reservation please contact Stephanie at (802) 367-7960 or [email protected].

Countryman’s Peony Farm

The legendary nurseryman, Bill Countryman was both an avid collector of peonies and also a well-respected peony breeder. Indeed, by the time of his death in 2005, he had amassed over 1500 different named varieties — including almost every Gold Medal winner (the prestigious medal awarded annually by the American Peony Society) at his hillside farm in Northfield, Vt.

And the good news is that his beloved peony collection still lives on today. In 2013, in a leap of faith, Connecticut natives Dan and Ann Sivori, decided to buy the farm. And since then, as dedicated stewards both of the land itself as well as the amazing collection of plants they had inherited, Dan and Ann have diligently worked to maintain and restore Bill’s beloved peony fields.

Now once again, at the height of this year’s peony bloom season, Ann and Dan are graciously opening their land so that members of the public can wander through the peony fields and savor these amazing flowers. They do not charge any fee for visiting, but — since this is also their home — you are especially asked to respect the following dates and times which they have established.

They are open for visitors from 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. any day between June 16 and June 20, and between June 23 and June 30. Occasionally they may extend these hours so that visitors can stay and watch the sun setting behind the Green Mountains — a beautiful sight indeed. (Check their Countryman Peony Farm Facebook page closer to the time for these extended hours.)

You are also welcome to bring your own chairs and a picnic to enjoy while you are there, and there will even be a single porte-potty available for visitors.

Now who could ask for more!

Cady’s Falls Botanical Garden

Cady’s Falls Botanical Garden in the town of Morrisville — the beautiful creation of Lela and Don Avery — is hidden away at the end of Duhamel Road alongside the meandering Lamoille River.

Over 40 years ago Don and Lela discovered an old dairy farm that was for sale. They immediately saw the unique potential of the site, with its weathered farm buildings and rich bottomland soil. And, until recently, they ran a most remarkable nursery there, featuring unusual plants from around the world that would flourish in Vermont’s climate.

At the same time they also developed the most spectacular garden, where visitors could see many unique plants growing in perfect harmony with one another.

And today, although they recently closed the nursery, Don and Lela still welcome visitors to the newly named Cady’s Falls Botanical Garden. All they ask is that you contribute a goodwill donation to help with the cost of upkeep.

This lovely garden, covering about one and a half acres, actually comprises several distinct garden areas which merge seamlessly together to create a continuous whole. And since each of these gardens-within-a-garden offers an individual growing environment — such as sunny, shady, wet or dry — it also supports a unique palette of plants adapted to that particular environment.

Of course these environmental differences are of immense interest to avid plant lovers. But these inherent contrasts also create a sense of mystery for all visitors as they stroll from one part of the garden to another.

Many people start their wanderings by dipping under the arbor draped with a weeping larch, to be greeted by a monumental weeping Norway Spruce (Picea abies ‘Pendula’) — the centerpiece of the wide sweeping lawn. The deep planting beds surrounding the lawn are filled with unusual shrubs and colorful perennials — including many different peonies as well as clumps of the stunning Himalayan Blue Poppies (Meconopsis betonicifolia).

From the lawn area it is but a short step into the shady woodland glen which is criss-crossed by meandering paths that let visitors enjoy the plants up close.

At this time of year the woodland garden is a spectacular tapestry of colorful flowers — from robust rhododendrons and azaleas, to woodland peonies, primroses and trillium.

Continuing on we soon encounter the spectacular water garden with numerous plants that are adapted to grow in wet or even standing water. You will easily see the huge broad-leaved Umbrella Plant (Darmera peltata), contrasting with clumps of slender linear variegated iris.

Also be on the lookout for clumps of our native Lady’s Slippers (orchids in the genus Cypripedium) which can be found growing wild in a few locations in Vermont. As Don points out, while Lady’s Slippers are extremely hard to propagate in a nursery setting, they are actually not hard to grow in our gardens. But about a decade ago, he perfected a technique for propagating various species of Lady’s Slippers, which you can see at Cady’s Falls Garden during June.

Check their new website for additional details.

Judith Irven and Dick Conrad live in Goshen where together they nurture a large garden.

Judith is a Vermont Certified Horticulturist and teaches Sustainable Home Landscaping for the Vermont Master Gardener program. You can subscribe to her blog about her Vermont gardening life at

Dick is a landscape and garden photographer; you can see more of his photographs at northcountryimpressions.

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