hildene peonies

The Formal Garden at Hildene is a must see year-round, but is particularly popular in late spring when the peonies are in bloom.

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MANCHESTER — Each year, more than 1,000 fragrant peony blooms in Hildene’s Formal Garden at the Lincoln Family’s Manchester estate draw visitors from far and wide, when the floral beauties reach their peak during the first two weeks of June.

The garden, designed in 1908 by President Lincoln’s granddaughter, Jessie Lincoln, for her mother, Mary Harlan Lincoln, is a must see year-round, but is particularly popular late spring when the peonies are in bloom.

The pattern is that of a stain glass window; the privet representing the leading, the flowers the glass. As a young woman, Jessie had seen such windows in the cathedrals of Europe as well as the parterre design in gardens she discovered during her travels. Archival documents suggest that Robert Lincoln collaborated with his daughter in bringing the family’s Vermont garden to life.

Proof that Hildene’s original peonies are heirloom came with the discovery of correspondence from Robert Lincoln dated Nov. 9, 1905 and bearing the following directive, “There is at the express office, Manchester Depot, a box addressed to me from Paris, France. It contains peony roots.” This was proof positive that the peonies were more than one hundred years old, making them centennial cultivars.

Archival research also revealed that while Mr. Lincoln handled the financing, it was daughter, Jessie, who was primarily responsible for the design, placing orders and planting of the garden.

In recent years, the prestigious American Peony Society designated two of Hildene’s peonies, the Hildene and Jessie Lincoln, as previously unidentified cultivars. The study that led to this honor took place in the observation garden located behind the Welcome Center in the Cutting and Kitchen Gardens, also a special area to visit.

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Thursdays in the Garden, from June 3 through Sept. 16 from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m., guests can join Hildene gardeners for an informal walk-and-talk in the Cutting and Kitchen Gardens where Hildene maintains yet more gardens: flower cutting, butterfly, peony, and the Giving Garden (which supplies produce to the local food cupboard). Topics vary, depending on what’s happening in the garden at the time.

The program is free with admission or $10 for non-members wishing to come to Hildene just for the program. Check-ins, payments, and stickers for members are at the Welcome Center.

From June 7 to Oct. 15 guests can join Hildene horticulturist Andrea Luchini for a stroll through gardens rooted in history and maintained to ensure a sustainable future, exploring both the historic formal garden and cutting and kitchen gardens, as well as newer plantings such as the native plant pollinator and butterfly gardens. Questions are welcome.

The hour-long tour is for a family or pod of up to 6 people: $10 per person; Mondays, 11 a.m. to noon, and Fridays, 2 to 3 p.m., June 7 through Oct. 15, by reservation only. Please note that this is an add-on tour and does not include general admission (which is $23 for adults, $6 for children ages 6 to 16, and free for children under 6 and for Hildene members).

For more information, contact Stephanie at 802-367-7960 or stephanie@hildene.org.

COVID protocols, including masks and social distancing, will be followed.


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