The new J. Watson Webb Jr. Memorial Peony Garden features 700 peonies in 25 varieties at the Shelburne Museum

SHELBURNE, Vt. -- The late J. Watson Webb Jr. was passionate about peonies.

As long-time director and trustee of the Shelburne Museum, the museum, in his honor, has installed a new garden of 700 peonies in 25 varieties.

Only a few were abloom on the recent Peony Sunday held at the Museum. You will have to go quick to catch a glimpse of a Festiva Maxima, Modesta, Shirley Temple, Sarah Bernhardt or Red Charm.

The peonies range from white to pink to very deep red in color. Most are large double-blooms, of which Webb planted more than 1,000 around the Brick House, the Vermont estate he inherited from his mother, Electra Havemeyer Webb, museum founder.

"He always loved them," said Rick Peters, head of the museum's gardens and grounds.

Last September, Peters and his staff planted 700 peonies that line the entrance to the grounds and the slope behind the Electra Havemeyer Webb Building.

Mr. Webb's favorite was Red Charm, an intense red variety. This year's blooms include Paul Wild, which Peters describes as a nice, very red peony.

"Peonies come back each year around the estate around the first of June. Some varieties are late. Some are more mid-season. It's a three-week season."

The Shelburne's grounds provide the perfect setting for the peonies that love full sun and well-drained soil.

"They don't want their roots in water. They will grow poorly in very wet situations. They don't like being planted in close competition with trees or other shrubbery. They like being out on their own."

Peter recommends planting peonies in good garden soil, compost enriched.

"The planting depth is critical. You should plant them relatively close to the surface. If you plant them too deep, you will get a nice plant but you won't get any flowers."

If you don't catch the peonies at the Shelburne, roses are abloom everywhere and the Horseshoe Barn features a new zinnia garden modeled after a quilt in the museum's collection.

"That's doing very well right now."

The new Shaker Design exhibition has inspired a Shaker garden complete with marigolds, dahlias, nasturtiums, sweet peas and petunias.

"It's a simple rectangle planted in different strips of different size for each variety of flower."

The transformation of the Turtle Baby sculpture into a fountain has delighted kids in the Botswick Memorial Garden, a formal garden with a painterly palette.

"We kind of ramped up our gardening here and will continue to do so," Peters said. "It's a very good complement to our collection on the inside. We feel the campus here is very well set for people to come to see the grounds and gardens. It's a very popular part of our visitors' experience and we're continuing to enhance that and make it better and better."

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