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  • Writer's pictureNick

APS 2023 Convention Garden Tours: Day 1 - The Garden of Frances Millard

Updated: Mar 26

As the days started to lengthen and warm up after the calendar flipped to 2023, a sense of excitement and anticipation was exponentially mounting in the back of my mind. After all, the last time I attended an APS convention was in 2018 in Oregon, and a ton had changed in the last five years. The Oregon convention forever changed my life, and since that time my involvement in the peony community and my appetite for peony knowledge had substantially deepened; happenings at this convention inspired me to open up my garden to visitors, increase and improve my collection, dip my toes in the world of peony hybridization, take on directorship with the APS and CPS, and build this very website. If you have an interest in peonies on any level, I can't recommend attending a convention enough —I am certain it will be one of the most rewarding events you can experience. So, as we experienced record spring heat in Edmonton, which produced an unprecedented explosion of growth, I bid my peonies, which started to bloom unseasonably early, goodbye and hopped on a plane to Syracuse, New York. There are so many topics I can report on: how good it was to connect with familiar faces and finally first meet people I have corresponded with online for years, the beauty of Upstate New York, and how the experience was fundamentally different now that I understood more about these plants and had a leadership role. However, I'll limit the contents of this blog post to the first destination on the first day of garden tours. Let's go! Our first stop was the personal garden of Frances Millard of Western New York. Frances has been gardening in this location for over 30 years and knew Nassos Daphnis, at one point even receiving advice and instruction on woody peony hybridizing and propagation from him. Wow!

APS members stand in front of  Frances Millard's house, conversing while enjoying the tidy gardens.
APS members in front of the Millard residence.

Frances' gardens were immaculately sculpted, including incredibly diverse plantings of magnificent specimens. The planning of this garden and the editing of its contents must have been meticulous, because every plant seemed perfectly placed, dutifully serving a purpose in a larger and most captivating vista. Frances' approach humbled my own and made me question my rather pragmatic, mostly companionless rows of peonies. The beds were extremely tidy and well maintained, an impressive feat considering the large, sprawling gardens. Members were left in awe at the breadth and scope of the gardens, and I'm sure, like me, were perhaps revisiting the convention program to reconfirm that this was a personal garden tended by a few sets of hands.

As for peonies, Frances has a sensational woody collection that includes many Saunders and Daphnis cultivars. Amongst the more rare and elusive Daphnis cultivars in the gardens are 'Sappho', 'Avra', 'Thermopylae', and 'Persephone', likely to be found in few other collections elsewhere. The Saunders cultivars located here number 25, and include rarities like 'Silver Sails' and 'Rose Flame' (reference: APS Bulletin No. 404)

Many of these plants were large and must have been growing in the same location for quite some time. The peonies were given ample spacing to reach their full potential and they gladly claimed it, rewarding Frances with a showy profusion of blooms, much to the benefit and viewing pleasure of us visitors. In fact, the plants were in such good shape that they convinced a couple of members I chatted with to move some of their plants to better places in their gardens so they could achieve similar results that's some pure inspiration right there! Though some of these plants were labelled, it did not feel appropriate to clumsily trod through Frances' carefully designed beds, and as a result I don't have cultivar names for the gallery of stunners in the images below. I have no doubt that Frances could quite easily rattle off their names, so perhaps I will have to get in touch with her and provide an update later.

I should mention that, though the gardens did include herbaceous peonies in some locations, I was transfixed by the woody peonies, which were the subjects of most of my photos. Alas, I also ran out of time (as is often the case when I am a visitor in the gardens of others) to photograph and truly take in all the sights the garden generously provided. Explore some photos of Frances' breathtaking collection below.

A slideshow of the gardens was playing in the guest house, and the outdoor furniture was adorned with beautiful arrangements of cut peonies. It was special touches like this that made the visit extra memorable and special, and it was truly appreciated by visitors. Though it seemed like we just stepped off the bus, over an hour had passed and it was time to board the bus to our next destination - Linwood Gardens. As they say, time flies when you're having fun! A very heartfelt thank you goes to the Millards for allowing us to enjoy their slice of gardening paradise.

Stay tuned for more garden tour goodness!


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