Must See: Allerton Park Peony Garden

The Allerton Peony Garden features nearly 70 named varieties and thousands of flowers for families to enjoy

Editor’s Note: Please see Allerton’s Facebook page for the most recent COVID-19 visitor guidance. Public toilets are currently available in the greenhouse and in the main car park. The water fountains are currently closed and visitors are recommended to bring their own water. Face masks are necessary when social distancing is not possible; Expect wait times during the busy visiting hours of the gardens.

Allerton Park and Retreat Center in Monticello, owned by the University of Illinois, is touted as one of the Seven Wonders of Illinois. Whoever makes these lists probably visited Allerton during the month of May when the Peony Garden is at the peak of its flowery magnificence.

Photo credit: Kathy Richards

Robert Allerton and his family built and maintained the Domaine d’Allerton and its gardens, mainly in the 1920s and 1930s, before handing over the property to the University of Illinois in 1946. The peony, already present in his own garden, was said to be one of Robert’s favorite flowers. The Peony Garden was revived in the early 2000s after a period of neglect, and thanks to continued financial support from donors, it thrives today and is nationally renowned among peony lovers.

Know before you go

– Allerton’s outdoor spaces are open most days from 8 a.m. to sunset.

– Peonies bloom most commonly in Illinois around Mother’s Day in mid-May, but several varieties (almost 70!) planted in Allerton produces almost continuous flowering from late April through June. Check out Allerton’s handy flowering guides, here and here, to see what other flowers might bloom during your visit.

– Other areas of Allerton’s terrain are probably more appealing to the little ones, whether it’s the whimsical statues, the long gravel paths or the unbroken strips of grass. The peony garden will appeal especially to budding botanists (ha!), Although the garden features a famous sculpture, a replica of the Louvre museum.Three graces ”by Germain Pilon. If you are coming to Allerton with young companions, we recommend that you submit them to the Peony Garden first, before you take out the snacks and let them explore elsewhere.

Pink Allerton Peonies
Photo credit: Kathy Richards

– The closest car park to the Peony Garden is located on Old Timber Road, in the Visitor center parking lot. The visitor center is unmanned and is currently undergoing renovations; when open, it is a self-guided resource with maps, displays, and restrooms. There is no admission fee to Allerton, although donations are encouraged.

– Speaking of donations, consider supporting fundraising in progress make the Peonies Garden more accessible to visitors who use mobility aids.

– The Allerton Greenhouse Café reopened on May 1, 2021 and is currently operated by Blue Dragonfly caterer. It offers classic coffee refreshments, homemade baked goods, fresh and fun sandwiches and unique salads. For hours and menu, click here. Closed on Mondays.

White peonies in Allerton
Photo credit: Kathy Richards

– For many years, adventurous visitors could see the peony garden from above (!) On an elevated walkway. Much to the relief of most parents, access to this wall has been closed for decades due to the state of disrepair.

– Adjacent to the Peony Garden, the Bulb Garden offers a similar abundance of blooms in stages, if that’s your thing. The renewal of this area began in 2016 and the garden is preserved in memory by Professor Mark E. Roszkowski of the University of I. Its design uses the principles of landscape architecture of the time of Robert Allerton and uses both bulbs and annuals to ensure continuous flowering throughout of the season. So even if you miss the flowered Peony Garden window, there will still be plenty of floral beauty in Allerton for you to enjoy.

Field of red peonies
Photo credit: Kathy Richards

– Want to plant a peony at home? As perennials, peonies reliably return every year. Fortunately, some peonies last decades in one place. They thrive in full sun to partial shade, prefer an area with well-drained soil, and remain largely disease-free if you remove dead foliage in the fall. Larger varieties may benefit from some anti-flop support (like those green rings that people sometimes stake above them in the spring); otherwise leave them alone. Pick a fragrant strain if you can – it smells like heaven – and if the nursery label says it is powdery mildew resistant, all the better.

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