Fleeting Beauty, Enduring Consequences: Decisive Issues in Peony Garden Collection Development

David Michener, Associate Curator, U-M Matthaei Botanical Gardens; Lecturer, School of Natural Resources and Environment

The historic Peony Garden at the University of Michigan Nichols Arboretum already holds the most diverse and largest heritage (pre-1950) herbaceous peony collection in North America. The Arboretum has launched a multi-year effort to develop the peony collection to become the foremost of its type in the world, with a target date of 2022.

Our goals require unassailable accuracy, collection breadth, depth, and complete public access – physical as well as digital. Deliberate and irrevocable decisions must be made along the way, especially since the potential to acquire missing materials is rapidly diminishing with time. The garden space is finite, thus the only way to upgrade the collection to international significance is to replace selected existing plants with ones of greater intellectual and cultural value, while still maintaining the aesthetic integrity of the whole.

This presentation examines how museum practices frame the stewardship and decision-making of the Nichols Arboretum as we shape this collection and break new ground in living collection management.

Dr. David C. Michener is the Associate Curator at the University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, where he oversees collection development, renovation and related information management. He serves on the university’s Museum Studies Program’s steering committee and as a Faculty Associate in the Program in the Environment. David teaches in the Michigan Math and Science Scholars summer program. He has conducted over a dozen on-site, confidential reviews of living collections for funding agencies. David has written several technical curatorial articles, and in the popular press, is the co-author of Taylor’s Guide to Groundcovers (with Nan Sinton). His doctorate in botany is from the Claremont Graduate School and Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden; his undergraduate degree is in botany with highest honors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.