Maize and blue flower arrangement.

Go Bloom

Pink PeonyA legacy gift ensures healthy future for peony collection at Matthaei and Nichols

The late Martha G. Parfet (LSA ’46) will be remembered for the warmth of her presence, her service to her community, and her deep and abiding connection to the natural world. In 2013, Parfet made the largest endowment gift in the history of Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum. Parfet was the last living grandchild of U-M alumnus William E. Upjohn (MD 1875), who first donated peonies to the university in 1922. That seed funding provided the foundation for the peony gardens, which first opened to the public in 1927.

Parfet’s 2013 gift established the W.E. Upjohn Peony Garden Fund, celebrating her family’s long history of supporting U-M and reaffirming her own commitment to preserving the beauty of the natural world for future generations. Today, the garden offers a stunning array of flowers, with over 270 historic cultivated varieties from the 19th and early 20th centuries. The finest American, Canadian, and European peonies of that era decorate 27 beds, with each full bed containing 30 peonies. Parfet’s legacy at U-M will be in bloom for many summers to come, as 10,000 herbaceous heirloom peonies—the largest collection of their kind anywhere in North America—spring to life again and again.

Donor support preserves an art of branch and balance

The Matthaei Botanical Gardens’ collection is home to more than 70 bonsai and penjing specimens. Access to the collection is free and open to the public.

The Bonsai and Penjing Garden at U-M’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens opened in 2013, thanks to generous support from numerous donors. At the tail end of the Victors for Michigan campaign, a gift from U-M alumnus Mel Goldstein (AB ’59, AM ’60) has endowed a curator for the garden and put it in position to be one of the leading bonsai gardens in the United States.

The bonsai and penjing collection began in 1977 with a gift of specimens from the estate of Maurice Seevers, former director of the U-M Department of Pharmacology and an ardent bonsai lover. Today, the collection numbers more than 70 specimens, representing traditional Japanese and Chinese styles along with American and European influences.

The practice of growing stylized, transportable plants probably began with Buddhist monks traveling from ancient India. Today, bonsai is practiced all over the world. It continues to balance aesthetic concerns with a commitment to conservation, an art form steeped in a deep connection to the natural world. “By virtue of our being here on earth, observing other life without impact is not an option,” says donor Jack Wikle. “So the issue, it seems, is being conscientious in our search for that unattainable optimum balance—never stable, always teetering, constantly shifting—between watching and participation. I believe that the awareness, understandings and appreciation that grow from cultivating trees in containers can help us in our search for this balance.”

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