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Schwartz Peony Gardens

Schwartz Peony Gardens
Gaithersburg, Maryland

I believe it was a tip from Washington Gardener that prompted me to search out the Schwartz Peony Gardens in Seneca Creek State Park. Following several amusing official signs pointing the way to the peonies, I made my way through a forested area of the park into a large meadow-like clearing. It was here that I finally spotted my floral destination, the ultimate peony party. If you have ever experienced the pleasant, floppy freshness of even a single bouquet of peonies, the effect of them en mass is quite a dazzling experience!

The main attraction here is an impressive elongated rectangular garden made up of rows and rows of peony bushes, which send out their showy flower puffs in all directions. Many different variations of the plant are grouped together, including types with only one set of petals (Single Peonies) with their bright yellow stamen clusters prominently exposed. The more familiar Double Peonies make bold statements, with their mass of petals forming a floral poof. Their shades of white, pale pink, and darker hues ranging from fuchsia to almost purple make for an elegant color palette.

I was surprised to find some of the Single Peonies looking very much like dahlias, which led me to consider the similarities between the many variations of each of the two flowers. The giant “bomb-type” peonies reminded me of how big the blooms of some varieties of dahlias can get; much like those in a similar “hidden” garden within a park of the Dahlia Garden of the National Capitol Dahlia Society.

These gardens owe their existence and name to Edward P. Schwartz, a wealthy realtor who turned his obsession with peonies into a massive personal collection, which was the largest in the world at the time and drew crowds of admirers. When his children later sold the property to the city, they salvaged a small fraction of the floral bounty and replanted them on land that is now Seneca Creek State Park.

It is only through volunteer-driven efforts that the garden thrives today, since the state park itself is not able to handle the upkeep. Just past the tidy rows of flowers in the main garden, rogue clumps of peonies pop up here and there in the grassy meadow beyond, the only remnants of extensive gardens gone untended.

Final Rating: I have a huge weakness for this type of specialty garden hidden in plain sight, the kind of place anyone could stumble upon and have an unexpected garden experience. There is a melancholy beauty to these flowers that has the ability to enchant both a rich nature enthusiast to amass in unheard of amounts as well as inspire diligent volunteers to continue caring for them when no one else would. I too was wooed by these delicate and powerful peonies I had never fully manage to appreciate before. Now I am fully enamoured! THREE BLOOM RATING

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