After that great bike ride at Seneca Creek State Park, I decided to return to learn more about the Peony garden there. At the entrance to the garden, there was a little pamphlet holder. I opened one of the pamphlets to learn the history of the garden.
As it turns out, in addition to the great garden of peonies, there is actually an entire hill of peonies adjacent to this beautifully fragrant refuge that was not in bloom at the time of my first visit.
The large collection of peonies that you will find at Seneca Creek State Park were gifted by The Schwartz Family. They were transplanted from the family’s home on Summit Avenue in Gaithersburg which is now the site of City Hall.
Mr. Schwartz, who began as an amateur gardener, started with one peony bush in his yard in 1913. Over the years, he purchased peonies from Holland, France, England and Germany. By 1924, he had a collection of 400 varieties and over 40,000 plants. Each year, he would open his gardens to the public at peak bloom – mid May to early June. His collection became known as the “World Famous Schwartz Peony Garden.”
After Mrs. Schwartz passed in 1941, her daughter and son in-law sold their Gaithersburg home and purchased 18 acres of land on Clopper Road. At that time, they began transplanting 250 varieties and 35,000 plants to their new home. They even operated a nursery business where they sold roots to customers and cut flowers to local florists.
In 1963, that land became part of what is now Seneca Creek State Park. In recent years, many species of those same peonies have been transplanted from around the property into the “display garden” that I discovered and share with you on my ride that day (pictured above). These plants are mulched, weeded and fertilized. The balance of the plants live in a meadow setting on the hillside adjacent with mown pathways. They are known as the “Peony Fields.”
It may come as no surprise to learn that the peony is Gaithersburg’s city flower. Each year the city hosts a Peony Festival at the former Schwartz home also known as City Hall in Olde Towne Gaithersburg. This year’s celebration with be this Sunday, June 8th. Click here for more details. The Schwartz Family’s beautiful legacy lives on.
I have lived in this area for over 14 years. Seneca Creek Park is literally in my backyard and I just discovered the Peony Fields. I realize that since I was raising kids during that time, the first stop we made when entering the park was to the playground. The Peony Fields are in the opposite direction and only bloom for a few weeks which happens to be while the kids are still in school and at a time that we were not visiting the park per se. It was easy to see why I might have missed it over the years.
“I hope this story leads you off your usual path and encourages you to discover something new right in your own backyard.”