News & Notes

The Peonies of Gilsland Farm

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012
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Each June, hundreds of people flock to Gilsland Farm, Maine Audubon’s headquarters in Falmouth, for the spectacular peony show. Professional and amateur photographers, along with peony aficionados and plant lovers, revel in the sprawling display of these gorgeous, showy blossoms framed by deep green foliage. Because the oriental blooms multiply slowly and by division only, it is a notable achievement that our peony beds are well established and continue to flourish after nearly a century. Escaped peonies also dot the landscape around the sanctuary.

The History of the Peonies

David Edward Moulton (1871-1951), a prominent attorney and founder of the Portland Water District, acquired the property that was to become Gilsland Farm in 1911. His love of horticulture led him to plant many varieties of trees, shrubs, and flowers on the property, but it was the peony that truly fascinated him. By 1928, he had collected more than 200 varieties planted over four acres—reputedly one of the most complete peony collections in the country. So famous were Moulton’s flowers that individual peony roots sold for as much as $250. The Portland paper called Gilsland Farm “a show garden of peonies—wonder place of Portland.” Moulton maintained a generous tradition for many years of giving a red peony flower to each graduate of Portland High School to wear on their graduation gowns. Alumni of Portland High School still make their way to Gilsland Farm to enjoy the peonies and to remember their special day. As a lasting tribute to her father, Ruth Moulton Freeman and her family presented Gilsland Farm to Maine Audubon on December 2, 1971. She dedicated the sixty-acre property beside the Presumpscot River “for the people of Falmouth and the people of Maine in recognition of David Moulton’s great love for his farm, and for the natural beauty and wildlife of the state of Maine.”

The Peonies Transformed Today

Though David Moulton’s fields of cultivated peonies no longer exist, and champion Jersey cattle are no longer seen grazing on what used to be a working farm, visitors to Gilsland Farm will find remnants of his collection blooming in the meadows and along the woodland edges in June. Each June, Maine Audubon recognizes members of our Peony Circle, those supporters who have given to Maine Audubon continuously for more than 20 years. They truly are a rootstock for growth!