Monday, July 13, 2020

The Flowers Of Summer

by Frank Boles

As an occasional gardener, I was delighted when the library recently received a complimentary copy of Passion for Peonies: Celebrating the Culture and Conservation of Nichols Arboretum’s Beloved Flower, edited by David Michener and Robert Grese (Ann Arbor University of Michigan Press, 2020).

As the authors point out, peonies were once America’s favorite flower, and because they are so easy to divide they remain a cherished, flowering heirloom in many families, where a part of “grandma’s peony” still blooms every summer in the garden.

Noting the flowers' long history in gardens, the book includes a section on “Peonies in Classic Garden Writing.” There I found a piece of writing by an old acquaintance of the Clarke Historical Library, Louisa Yeomans King. In the early years of the twentieth century, Mrs. King, who lived in Alma, Michigan, was one of the nation’s leading gardeners and an important author about gardens. Her home and garden in Alma, Orchard House, was something of a shrine. But when Mrs. King’s husband died in 1927, he left his wife without the means to maintain her extensive garden. Mrs. King sold Orchard House and its garden. After an extended tour of Europe, she settled in New York state where she continued her career as an author and planted a new, far less extensive, garden.

Mrs. King chose to destroy her personal papers, and for many years there were no good pictures of her Alma garden. But in Alma, the family of Mrs. King’s long-time gardener, Frank Ankney, had preserved a treasure: an album of photos taken of the garden that had been given to Frank. That album is now preserved in the Clarke Historical Library. Pictures from the album of Mrs. King’s peonies illustrate her reprinted article in Passion of Peonies.

Mr. Ankney’s album is a small piece of mid-Michigan summer beauty the Clarke Historical Library is happy to hold, preserve, and make available for use. As for the garden itself, without Mrs. King’s inspiration it slowly declined. Eventually this small piece of paradise did actually become a parking lot. But we remember it in its glory, through pictures, some taken more than a century ago.

If you would like to know move about Mrs. King and her Alma garden, visit the Clarke library's website